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Until now, officials in the semi-autonomous Russian Republic of Chechnya have denied the country’s nearly year-long campaign of kidnapping, torturing and killing LGBTQ people with the eye-roll-worthy excuse of, “Well, nobody has come forward to officially complain about it, so it must not be happening.” (Never mind that officially complaining about it can get you and your family arrested, tortured and killed.) But a brave Chechnya witness has come forward, finally putting a name and a face to the countless number of LGBTQ victims harmed in the country’s anti-queer purge.
His name is Maxim Lapunov. He’s a 30-year-old who originally came to Chechnya from Siberia. He has begun speaking publicly about his experience with the hopes of spurring a competent and consequential investigation into Chechnya’s ongoing purge.
The Chechnya witness: Lapunov’s story
Novaya Gazeta, the publication that first reported Chechnya’s anti-gay purge, has shared Lapunov’s story. He says that on Mar. 16, 2017, Chechen authorities in plain clothes grabbed him from his place of work at the Grand Park shopping center in Grozny (the Chechen capitol) and shoved him into a car.
Lapunov says 50 witnesses saw his arrest as well as four uniformed officers. His captors put a hood over his head and took him to a five-story building. There, they looked through his cell phone and asked him if he had a girlfriend or boyfriend.
They accused him of coming to Chechnya to “lure Chechen boys” and told him to reveal any other gay men he knew. Lapunov stayed silent, so they threatened to interrogate and torture him. His interrogators played “good cop-bad cop”: One threatened to beat him with a plastic PVC pipe and electrocute him, and the other offered him a cigarette and assured him that if he gave up information that no one would harm him.
Lapunov gave up the name of a single person in Grozny. His interrogator made him dial this person and arrange a meeting. When his friend came out to meet him, they arrested his friend, took him back to the aforementioned building and beat him severely, making Lapunov watch via camera. They explained to Lapunov that this is how they treat “fags,” but they wouldn’t do the same to him because he is Russian (as opposed to Chechen).
All the same, they made Lapunov sleep on a blood-stained piece of cardboard in a cold concrete cell. They beat him with the pipe and demanded that he and his friend beat one another (after telling him to give his friend a blowjob). His friend weakly punched him in the face and refused to do anything worse.
After about 12 days, they eventually released Lapunov and told him to leave Chechnya, warning that if he ever came forward, they’d kill him and his family.
What happens now?
While Lapunov’s story as a Chechnya witness adds to a growing body of evidence against the republic, it’s unlikely that Russian federal authorities will do anything to stop the violence there. Instead, it’s likely that the local Russian LGBT Network will do their best to share his tale while continuing to help LGBTQ people flee the region for Canada and various European countries.
Protests around the world continue to raise awareness about Chechnya and Human Rights Watch has asked the United Nations, the Parliament of Europe and other world government to repeatedly bring up the issue and have asked international citizens to help share information, like this article.
Featured image by Anna Artemiev via Novaya Gazeta