Eyewitness describes horrors of anti-LGBT Chechen purge

Maxim Lapunov (Photo courtesy of AFP)
Maxim Lapunov (Photo courtesy of AFP)

Russian officials had been largely ignoring international appeals for a probe of last spring’s round-up, imprisonment and torture of suspected gay men in Chechnya, pointing out that none of the victims had stepped forward publicly as a witness. But last month a Russian man spoke publicly about the extreme abuse he experienced in Chechnya after being abducted and imprisoned with other men.

In its Equal Eyes recap of the world’s LGBTI news, UNAIDS reported the story, which originally came from Human Rights Watch and Novaya Gazeta:

Victim of Chechnya’s anti-LGBT purge seeks justice

The location of Chechnya between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea.
The location of the Russian republic of Chechnya between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea.

[During a mid-October news conference in Moscow] a man described how he was rounded up and tortured during Chechnya’s anti-gay purge in the spring. One of dozens of victims of this large-scale “cleansing” operation against gay people in Chechnya, Maxim Lapunov, 30, is the only one who has dared to file an official complaint with the Russian authorities and then talk to the media, without hiding his face or real name. He is also the only non-Chechen local security officials had targeted because of his homosexuality.

As Lapunov spoke to a roomful of journalists, reliving the horrific experience of beatings and humiliation during his 12-day confinement in a dark, fetid basement, his hands shook and he had to stop several times to regain composure. On 16 March, security officials dragged him into a car in central Grozny, where he had been selling bright, festive balloons, took him to a police compound, pulled out several grisly torture devices, threatened to use them on him and to “tear him apart”.

The officials forced Lapunnov to call a gay acquaintance and invite him to a “meeting” — in fact a set-up with security officials waiting. Lapunov slept on the blood-stained floor of a tiny basement cell. He was beaten, and witnessed and heard as security officials beat and tortured other men presumed to be gay with electric shocks. Close to 30 others assumed to be gay were held at the facility during his time there — along with other detainees who weren’t part of the anti-gay round-ups.

Lapunov did not expect to survive. His legs, buttocks, ribs and back were all black and blue. When his torturers finally released him, he “could barely crawl”. Six months later, he still wakes up in a cold sweat from the piercing screams of other detainees in his nightmares.

Maxim Lapunov addresses Moscow press conference (Photo courtesy of Novaya Gazeta)
Maxim Lapunov addresses Moscow press conference (Photo courtesy of Novaya Gazeta)

Facing a broad international outcry over the purge, the Kremlin gradually moved from shrugging off the allegations to pledging to conduct an effective investigation and opening a federal-level inquest. However, high-level officials repeatedly flagged that not a single victim had stepped forward. They did not acknowledge the depth and legitimacy of victims’ fears about coming forward but rather used this to justify the investigation’s apparent lack of progress.

Like the rest of the victims, Lapunov had every reason to fear retaliation by Chechen authorities, especially as the security officials who released him warned him to keep silent. But, as a Russian man from Siberia who had gone to Chechnya for work, Lapunov did not have to face what every Chechen man caught in the purge feared: being targeted by his own relatives for “tarnishing family honour” or exposing his entire family to overwhelming stigma because of his homosexuality.

For more information, read the HRW article “Victim of Chechnya’s anti-LGBT purge seeks justice: But will the Russian authorities deliver on their pledges to investigate?”

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Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]


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  1. I don’t think Russia cares too much about this, even though they’ve had nothing but trouble from Muslim Chechnya (several mass-murderous terror attacks on Russian civilians).

  2. Russia does not care?…. They are in fact, complicit of these crimes. Here in the US we have what is known as a, “tranny hammer.” ie, Those LGBTQ who would stand in covert/stealth defense of our culture. We scare the crap out’a haters

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