Russian man reveals he's a victim of Chechnya's 'gay purge'
'His courage is amazing,' human rights activist says of Maxim Lapunov
A 30-year-old Russian man has identified himself as one of the victims of Chechnya's so-called "gay purge," an event global human rights groups have condemned as a Nazi-like effort to rid the region of gay people.
He's the first person to publicly put his name and face on the record as being a victim of the roundup.
Maxim Lapunov had been living and working in the regional capital of Grozny when he was thrown in jail by Chechen police in March.
"The only charge they made was that I was gay," Lapunov told journalists at an invitation-only news conference in Moscow on Monday.
"One part of the jail cell was already blood-soaked. I was already stressed," he said.
"Then they started to beat me, and every 10 to 15 minutes they would come in and yell, 'He's gay and people like him should be killed.' I felt from all they said and acted (that) they would kill me in the end."
In at least two cases, the group claims, men were released back to their Chechen families who killed them because of "the stain on their family honour." Homophobia is rampant in Chechnya, and Human Rights Watch says so-called "honour killings" are not uncommon if a gay family member is outed.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned the purge, and Canada has offered sanctuary to more than 30 gay men from the region.
Lapunov is not Muslim nor is he from Chechnya and he does not have family there, which makes discussing what happened to him somewhat safer.
Lapunov told the news conference he had been selling balloons outside a Grozny mall when two men in plain clothes dragged him into a car.
Lapunov said he spent 12 days in custody, where he claims was savagely beaten by guards or police with wooden rods. He said police wanted to know about other gay people in Grozny.
Lapunov said he believes he was targeted because he worked in the production and entertainment industry. He said his name may have shown up in the contacts of other gay men who were also arrested.
"They put my face to the wall. They beat me on the back of my legs and hips," said Lapunov. "I would collapse and they would give me a chance to catch my breath before telling me to get up again. And it would start again."
Following international condemnation of the Chechen actions, the Russian government said it would look into the detentions but never launched any formal investigations, citing the lack of official complaints.
Chechnya is part of the Russian Federation, but its authoritarian leader Ramzan Khadyrov wields a great deal of independence. He shuns interviews with Western media and has been quoted as saying that Chechnya has no gay people.
Igor Kochetkov of the Russian LGBT Network was at Lapurnov's side during the news conference.
"It's a very serious situation. There have not been crimes like this on European territory since the Nazis — where they kill people just because they are gay," he said.
Tanya Lokshina, who co-authored the May report on the purge, called Lapunov incredibly brave
"His courage is amazing," she said.
The fact that he is the first person to file an official complaint about being tortured and beaten is significant, she said.
"Russian authorities at different levels made numerous statements about the fact that not a single victim filed an official complaint and that made it easy for officials to dismiss the complaint as rumours."
However, Lokshina said Russian authorities have taken no action in over two months on Lapunov's complaint, which is why he decided to come forward now.
While many gay men have fled Chechnya and Russia — including those who were granted asylum in Canada — Lapunov says he has no plans to flee despite the risk the publicity brings to him and his family in Moscow.
"I don't want to leave Russia. I was born here. Why should I run from my country?"