“It should not be like this. We are all people. We all have rights,” Maxim Laponov said in a press conference on Monday outside the Moscow offices of Novaya Gazeta, an independent Russian newspaper that broke the story of the crackdown. “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.”
Lapunov is the first of the victims of the Chechen “gay purge,” as it is commonly called, to come forward formally with his story.
“The only charge they made was that I was gay,” Lapunov said at the press conference. “I could hardly walk. I was sure they were going to kill me, I was preparing for that.”
He spoke about his 12 days in captivity, telling reporters how he was thrown in a “blood-soaked” cell and could hear the screaming and groans of other captives receiving brutal beatings as officers interrogated him.
“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,” Lapunov said. “Every day they assured me they would kill me, and told me how.”
Advocates from the Russian LGBT Network praised Lapunov’s courage in coming forward publicly.
“It is a very big step,” said a Russian LGBT Network spokesperson, speaking anonymously to the Washington Blade because of security concerns. “I believe and I hope that his courage will help us get justice for all these people, to make it impossible for the Russian authorities to ignore the situation in Chechnya.”
The Russian LGBT Network has helped to settle nearly 80 victims escaping the violence in Chechnya around the world, and said that it continues to receive reports out of Chechnya of ongoing detentions and torture.
Novaya Gazeta, one of the only independent media outlets in Russia, broke the story of the brutal torture of LGBT Chechens in April. When asked directly about the allegations, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov has insisted that “we don’t have any gays” in the semi-autonomous Russian republic.
While the Russian authorities have claimed that they have begun to investigate the situation on the ground in Chechnya, advocates are not confident that any action will be taken and have seen no signs of progress.
“We are working on this issue for the last half a year, and even living in Russia, it is incomprehensible what is happening,” the Russian LGBT Network spokesperson told the Blade. “The worst thing is that it’s not about criminals. It is all sponsored by local Chechen authorities, people in power.”
The Russian LGBT Network stressed the risk to LGBT Chechens also comes from their families as much as other Chechens in the diaspora if they make it out of the country.
“We know about some cases where people were at least threatened with violence after they left Russia,” said the spokesperson. “The security of those people is our main priority, and it is hard to estimate just how many people are still affected because all the data is outdated.”
The Russian LGBT Network said that in Chechen society, homosexuality is widely considered to be a shame and a stain on honor. For many people, then, “there is only one way to wash away this shame and that is to kill the person.”
“It is the direct responsibility of Russian federal authorities to conduct a proper investigation,” continued the Russian LGBT Network. “It is just unbelievable that they don’t do anything. They have stated there is an investigation, but it is not transparent. There are still no results and the people involved are still not punished.”