Man says Chechen officials jailed, tortured him because he was gay

A gay Russian man formally accused authorities in the Russian republic of Chechnya on Monday of jailing him and brutally beating him as part of a broad crackdown on LGBT people.

During a news conference, Maxim Lapunov said that unidentified people detained him on a street in the Russian region's provincial capital, Grozny, in March and drove him to a detention facility.

Lapunov was beaten with sticks during the nearly two weeks he was kept in custody. The guards also forced him and his partner, who was also detained and beaten, to fight each other, he said.

“Day after day, they were telling me how precisely they want to kill me” he said.

Lapunov, who was told he would be killed if he ever spoke about his time in detention, is the first person to file a complaint with Russian authorities over a wave of arrests of gay people earlier this year that human rights defenders and media outlets say have taken place under Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov.

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Other people in the same detention facility were tortured and beaten for being gay, according to Lapunov. He was let go after he signed a statement acknowledging he was gay.

"When I would fall, they would give me a break and then force me to stand up and continue for several more rounds," Lapunov, a resident of the Omsk region in Siberia, said of the beatings he received.

"When I was leaving Chechnya I could barely walk," he said.

Human rights group say more than 100 gay men were arrested and subjected to beatings and torture during the spring, and some of them were killed. Other victims have spoken about the crackdown without revealing their identities. Kadyrov and other officials in Chechnya have denied any crackdown on gay people.

"I keep having nightmares about what I went through there," Lapunov said. "Those cries, moans and prayers for mercy have left an imprint."

The crackdown has drawn international opprobrium.

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Igor Kalyapin, the head of the Committee against Torture, a Russian NGO that provided legal assistance to Lapunov, said the Russian investigative agency has dragged its feet on launching a probe based on his testimony even though Russia's human rights commissioner followed the case.

The Kremlin has relied on Kadyrov to stabilize Chechnya after two devastating separatist wars, effectively allowing him to run the mostly Muslim region in the North Caucasus Mountains like his personal fiefdom.

"There has been no official investigation into the hunt for gays that saw extrajudicial detentions and torture of dozens of people during the spring," Tanya Lokshina, the Russia program director at Human Rights Watch, said. "And the persecution of gays has continued on a smaller scale."

LGBT activists said Chechen authorities have handed over some detainees to relatives along with demands that they be punished. Homosexuality is taboo in Chechnya, and most people there are prejudiced against gay people.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.