“I thought they would kill me no matter what happened. They would stop briefly just to let me breathe. They made me get up when I was falling, and it went on and on.”
These were the words of Maxim Lapunov, an ethnically Russian man who came forward with his story of abduction, terror, and torture at the hands of the Chechen government.
His alleged crime? Being gay.
Press Conference Oct.16 in Moscow: Maksim Lapunov became 1st person 2 go public w/allegations of abuse in Chechnya's rep'd crackdown on gays pic.twitter.com/RY4ih8Tk5T— 🇺🇸TrumpRussia🇷🇺 (@TrumpEra_2017) October 17, 2017
Speaking from Moscow on Monday, Lapunov battled through tears at a press conference where he told reporters about the 12 days he suffered in a bloody jail cell as police officers routinely beat him in an attempt to elicit a confession that he was gay.
Though Lapunov is the first person to publicly speak about his experience with the Chechen police force, his accounts confirm what media outlets have been reporting for months: that the government of the Russian republic of Chechnya systematically arrested, tortured, and even killed young people in a “prophylactic sweep” of gay men across the country.
Leaders of the majority-Muslim Chechnya denied these charges back in April, saying that not only were these campaigns “absolute lies and disinformation,” but such a thing could not even have happened because, they claimed, there are no gay people in Chechnya.
“If there were such people in Chechnya, the law-enforcement organs wouldn’t need to have anything to do with them because their relatives would send them somewhere from which there is no returning,” a spokesperson for Chechnya’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov told the Interfax news agency.
Outrage over the alleged “gay pogrom” carried out by the Chechen government sparked an investigation by Russia into the validity of the claims made by human rights agencies and journalists. The Russian “Investigative Committee” eventually found that no such program existed, citing the fact that no victims had come forward to support this narrative.
This makes the public statement by Lapunov all the more important, for his testimony directly refutes that of the two powerful governments. But it also puts him in danger of further aggression. Many of the victims of these crimes who have spoken out, even anonymously to new outlets, fear for their safety, according to Human Rights Watch.
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Unfortunately, systematic abuse of LGBTQ communities by governments is not isolated to eastern Europe.
Last month, 20 people in Tanzania were arrested for suspected homosexuality while attending an HIV/AIDS workshop. In that country, as in several other African nations, explicit anti-gay laws make these actions perfectly legal.
Even in countries that lack anti-gay laws, similar campaigns are carried out with legal impunity. Wide-spread arrests of LGBTQ individuals were made recently in Egypt and Indonesia, where governments accused individuals of breaking “debauchery,” “blasphemy,” “immorality,” and anti-pornograpy laws.
Activists are applauding Lapunov for taking a stand against these discriminatory practices, and hope that his actions will inspire others to stand up against homophobia and hate in their own countries.
Maxim Lapunov demonstrates great courage; confronts anti-gay attackers- & inspires all who aspire to a Russia which offers justice. https://t.co/kHa4AF25Er— Damon M. Wilson (@DamonMacWilson) October 17, 2017
Lapunov acknowledged that the experiences he underwent were shared by many other men in Chechnya:
“Every evening, every night, they brought in another person accused [of being gay]. The screams and groans still come back to me.”