WINNER: 2014 Grierson Award for Best Current Affairs Documentary!

In modern-day Russia, where it is estimated that just 1% of the LGBT population lives completely openly, a recent anti-gay amendment to a “propaganda” law has triggered a rising number of assaults on gay men and women by vigilantes who, more often than not, go unpunished for their crimes.

Directed by Ben Steele, the startling expose Hunted in Russia looks at this climate of hostility.

Homosexuality was legalized in Russia 21 years ago, but gay people in the country have yet to win mainstream acceptance. In fact, attitudes in Russia appear to be moving backwards. With jobs and relationships at risk if their sexual orientation is exposed, most gay Russians remain closeted. As one gay man who lost sight in one eye during a recent unprovoked attack says ruefully, “Hunting season is open…and we are the hunted.”

Hunted in Russia features disturbing insider footage of homophobic Russians who, in the name of morality or religion, beat and torment gay people, posting graphic videos of their encounters online with few or no legal repercussions. These vigilantes see homosexuality as related to pedophilia, stating publicly that their justification for violence is protecting Russia’s children.

Since members of the gay community are afraid to live openly in Russia, groups like Occupy Pedophilia – whose members inaccurately claim that sexual abuse of children is most often committed by homosexuals – have been looking to root them out via the Internet. Posing as interested suitors, anti-gay activists “bait” unsuspecting men and women to rendezvous at apartments or public places, then harass, beat and humiliate victims, often urinating on them. Recordings of these encounters, along with forced admissions of homosexuality, are posted on the internet to “out” the victim and make his or her life “a living hell.”

Disturbing footage of a man’s harassment at the hands of a St. Petersburg vigilante branch, led by a woman named Katya, makes it clear that victims can do little to bring their tormenters to justice. Police rarely investigate such crimes, and there is no such thing as a gay hate crime in Russia. Meanwhile, the Russian Orthodox Church, which serves as a moral compass to millions of followers, condemns homosexuality.

Gay parents live in fear that the government will take steps to strengthen current laws and grant authorities the power to take away their children. Pro-gay activists are hindered by ordinances blocking them from mentioning homosexuality on picket signs or assembling in groups. Even straight sympathizers have found themselves and their livelihoods in jeopardy; Yekaterina, a teacher, says the new laws have triggered “a witch hunt.” In a country where the government and President Vladimir Putin have embraced an anti-gay stance, the feeling is that “the anti-gay forces are gaining momentum – and no one knows just how far the authorities will go.”

Hunted in Russia is a Channel 4 documentary directed by Ben Steele and originally broadcast in the U.K. by the series Dispatches. Investigative reporter Liz MacKean, who first uncovered the Jimmy Savile sex abuse story, led a team that spent several months in Russia prior to the Sochi Olympics.

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