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Russian Files Chechnya 'Gay Purge' Complaint With European Rights Court

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Maksim Lapunov gives a press conference in Moscow in October 2017.

A gay Russian man who says he was abducted and tortured by police in Chechnya has filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) after Russian investigators refused to open a criminal case in the matter, according to his lawyers.

The complaint by Maksim Lapunov, the only person to publicly come forward with accusations that he was targeted in a purge of gay men in the southern Russian region, was filed with the Strasbourg court on May 24, lawyers with the Russia-based Committee for the Prevention of Torture said in a statement.

Lapunov says he was swept up in what rights groups call a brutal "purge" of gay men by authorities in Chechnya, whose Kremlin-backed leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, rules the mainly Muslim North Caucasus region unchallenged.

He says he was abducted in Chechnya's capital, Grozny, in March 2017 and subjected to beatings while being held captive in a local police facility for nearly two weeks.

Lapunov's lawyers said the complaint to the Strasbourg court alleged that Russia violated his right not to be tortured or subjected to "inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment," as well as his right to have his private life respected and not to face discrimination.

Lapunov's detailed account of his ordeal and other corroborating information "provides us grounds to assert that Maksim was specifically victimized because he is gay," his lawyer, Olga Sadovskaya, said in a statement.

Sadovskaya told RFE/RL that the complaint also alleged the violation of Lapunov's right to liberty and security, as well as the right to a fair trial.

Both the Russian government and Kadyrov's administration have dismissed Lapunov's allegations as groundless, even as President Vladimir Putin's own human rights ombudswoman has said there is "every reason to open a criminal case" based on his claims.

A special rapporteur for the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe said in December 2018 that he had interviewed Lapunov personally and "can confirm his credibility."

Lapunov, who has since fled Russia over fears for his safety, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from RFE/RL on May 24.

But he said in a video statement in November 2018 that he planned to seek redress at the ECHR after a Russian court backed investigators' decision not to open an investigation.

"This was my last chance to find justice in Russia," Lapunov said in the video.

Reports of a coordinated campaign of violence and intimidation by law enforcement authorities in Chechnya in early 2017 was first reported by the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta in April of that year.

While other gay men gave anonymous accounts of the abuses they faced in the crackdown in interviews to RFE/RL and other media outlets, Lapunov became the first to publicly detail his story when he spoke at a Moscow news conference in October 2017.

"Everyone accused me of being gay and said that people like me should be killed. They put a plastic bag on my head when they took me out of the cell. They wrapped my head with Scotch tape, leaving only a slot to breathe through. They beat my legs and arms," Lapunov said at the time.

He told reporters that when he was finally released from captivity at the end of March 2017, he could "barely crawl."

Rights activists say Lapunov, an ethnic Russian from Siberia who had moved to Grozny before his detention, was in a better position to tell his story than gay ethnic Chechens because of cultural taboos on homosexuality in Chechen culture.

Kadyrov, whom the Kremlin has largely allowed to rule the region as he sees fit, claimed after reports of the violent campaign that such a purge was impossible because "we don't have any gays" in Chechnya. "If there are any, take them to Canada. Praise be to God. Take them far from us so we don't have them at home. To purify our blood," he told HBO in July 2017.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said this month that the authorities in Chechnya had resumed a campaign of abuse against gay and bisexual men.

HRW said it interviewed four men who said police in the region "interrogated them under torture, demanding, demanding that they identify other gay men in their social circles."

Russia has faced international criticism for its record on LGBT rights, including a 2013 law signed by Putin that banned disseminating "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" to minors. Putin denies the law is discriminatory, saying it is aimed only at protecting children.

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