For the first time since the Chechnyan gay purge began a victim speaks out about their terrifying experience, at a press conference.
The young Maxim Lapunov tells stories of excruciating threats, humiliation, and torture. He was held for 12 days in a blood-soaked cell.
Now, speaking in Russia’s capital Moscow, his lawyers say despite reporting this to authorities – there is no proper investigation happening.
The 30-year-old originally from Siberia spent two years living in Chechnya, working as an events organizer. He did not lead an ‘openly gay lifestyle.’
But one night he recalls being grabbed and dragged into a car one night in March. This is around the time, the first reports of the ‘gay purge’ began.
At a police facility, he says he faced interrogation and torture to name other gay men:
‘They burst in every 10 or 15 minutes shouting that I was gay and they would kill me,’ he says at a small gathering in Moscow.
‘Then they beat me with a stick for a long time: in the legs, ribs, buttocks, and back. When I started to fall, they pulled me up and carried on,” he said quietly.
‘Every day they assured me they would kill me, and told me how.’
Lapunov uses the conference to call on the government to investigate; ‘because we are all people and all have rights.’
Since March, the authorities in Chechnya, have been facing accusations of rounding up and torturing LGBTI people.
The Kremlin-backed strongman Ramzan Kadyrov who leads the republic in Northern Russian caucuses denies this.
The gentle victim – tortured for being gay
Lapunov has also given an extended interview to Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, who first reported the mass persecution of gay people earlier in 2017.
They describe him as an ‘extremely soft and intelligent person,’ but also one who had moments of naivety:
Igor Kochetkov, from the Russian LGBT network, says they have been helping 79 people flee since April. They have a hotline to help those caught up in the purge.
Those who have fled include 27 tortured men as well as relatives and partners.
Though Russian federal investigators privately say they want to get to the bottom of the allegations – little action has been taken.
Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch says: ‘Since we appealed to Moskalkova at the end of August, we have not spoken about this case in the press in any way. We wanted to give the state bodies a chance to do their work properly.’
But now the activists working on the case say they have gone public because it was clear there were no serious attempts to investigate.
Igor Kalyapin of the Committee to Prevent Torture adds: ‘On the European continent, nobody has tried to destroy people based on their sexual orientation since the time of Nazi Germany.’
Six months into the ‘gay purge’
News has from Chechnya has been slow because of the need to protect victims identities; making this victim’s choice to come forward on the record even more substantial.
As recently as July a new surge of activity was recorded.
Although much of the purge has been focusing on gay men, lesbians bisexual and trans people are at risk too.
Part of the reason this is happening in Chechnya is the legal privilege the area enjoys. Moscow granted the authority over the Chechen Republic to a then 30-year-old Ramzan Kadyrov 10 years ago.
Head of the Cheynyan movement Ramzan Kadyrov’s spokesperson Alvi Karimov has long claimed gay people ‘simply do not exist’ in the republic.
He said: ‘If there were such people in Chechnya, their relatives would send them somewhere from whence they could not return.