A victim of Chechnya’s ‘gay purge’ has become the first to come forward publicly with claims of abuse at the hands of authorities.
Maxim Lapunov, a 30-year-old Russian who had been living and working in Chechnya for two years prior to his detention, claims he was grabbed and dragged into a car in March by two men, BBC News reports.
Mr Lapunov described how he was held for 12 days in a blood-soaked cell, where he was beaten with sticks, threatened and humiliated by police.
“They burst in every 10 or 15 minutes shouting that I was gay and they would kill me,” Maxim told journalists at a press conference in Moscow organised by human rights activists.
“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 recalled.
“Every day they assured me they would kill me, and told me how.”
Maxim was eventually released by his captors after friends posted missing posters and his family reported his disappearance.
“I could barely crawl when I left,” he said.
International reports of state-sponsored persecution of gay men in Chechnya first emerged in April, prompting widespread public outcry.
Russian President Vladimir Putin launched an investigation into the claims following international pressure, but it was swiftly ended after investigators claimed they could find no evidence of “victims of persecution, threats or violence.”
Gay men who have previously come forward with details of alleged abuse at the hands of Chechen authorities have chosen to remain anonymous, fearing recriminations.
Maxim is the first to make allegations publicly, and activists say they hope this will force Russian authorities to properly investigate the claims.
“The authorities’ excuse was that no victims had made statements,” said Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch. “Now they have one, but there’s no investigation. There is a lack of political will.”
Maxim says he has already received threatening messages pressuring him to retract his statement.
“It should not be like this. We are all people. We all have rights,” he said. “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.”