A 30-year-old Russian man has become the first victim of Chechnya’s gay purge to openly speak about the horrific abuse he faced.
On Monday, Maxim Lapunov appeared alongside human rights activists at a press conference in Moscow. He revealed that he had been detained and tortured for 12 days by Chechen officials.
While some victims of the anti-LGBt crackdown have spoken anonymously about their experiences, Lapunov, who is an entertainer, is the first to do so while revealing his identity and face.
According to The Washington Post, he said he was arrested in March while selling balloons outside a mall in the capital, Grozny. He was bundled into a car by plainclothes police and taken to a police station.
“The charge was that I am gay,” Lapunov told reporters. For almost two weeks he was verbally and physically abused in a bloody cell with demands that he ‘confess’ his sexuality and name others who are gay or lesbian.
He was regularly beaten on his legs, hips, buttocks and back with sticks, often with a plastic bag over his head. “They would stop briefly just to let me breathe. They made me get up when I was falling, and it went on and on.”
To add to the horror, Lapunov said he could hear the “screams and groans” of others in the police station and that new victims were brought in on a daily basis.
He continued tearfully, “I thought they would kill me no matter what happened.” When he was released, he could barely walk.
Lapunov, who continues to have nightmares about the abuse, said he had reported the ordeal to the authorities but that no action had been taken. Despite death threats, he decided to go public.
The BBC reported that he said: “It should not be like this. We are all people. We all have rights. If those rights can be violated [in Chechnya], it could happen in any region. And no-one knows whose son or daughter will be next.”
Since February, around 100 men “accused” of being gay were reportedly rounded up, detained in secret facilities, tortured and in some cases killed in Chechnya, a semi-antonymous Russian republic. There have also been claims that the families of some victims were urged by the authorities to murder their LGBT relatives in so called “honour killings”.
Chechen dictator Ramzan Kadyrov has been accused of personally supporting the campaign, which he has denied has taken place. The Russian federal authorities promised to investigate the reports but no information has been released on any progress.
Last week, the Russian LGBT Network claimed “that persecutions of LGBT people in the Chechen Republic continue to this day”, with a new wave of detentions that began in August.
“Immense media attention from around the globe had its impact and the persecution stopped for some time,” said the organisation. “Yet the persecution started again after some time and now targeted not only men who were thought to engage in same-sex relationships. The officials also threatened the family members of those, who were previously detained and/or fled the republic.”
The network revealed that it had been contacted by more than 150 victims of the purge, that 79 LGBT people had fled Chechnya and that 53 had found sanctuary outside of Russia.
Last month, it was reported that the Canadian government had secretly assisted more than 30 gay men to flee from the crackdown and find refuge in the country.