UFA, Russia -- On April 20, Kristina Abramicheva, who heads the Alliance of Heterosexuals and LGBT for Equal Rights in the Bashkortostan capital, Ufa, posted an alarming warning on her Facebook page.
"In Ufa there is a hunt for gays going on under the name of Saw," she wrote. "It is a classic scheme: acquaintance through the Internet, harassment, filming, blackmail, and extortion. Although there have been victims and people have been appealing to our Alliance for legal and psychiatric help, the story is being hushed up and victims and witnesses are being forced to sign nondisclosure orders [by the authorities]."
Sometime in mid-March, Abramicheva told RFE/RL, her activists noticed online announcements touting "Saw: A Homophobic Game" and featuring an image of a character in the horror-film series Saw. The announcements declare the opening of the "Bashkir Season" on hunting LGBTs from March 3 until June 30.
"More homophobia, more frame-ups, more violence," the announcement proclaims.
Some of the announcements declare that "more than 50 of Chechnya's best homophobes" have come to Bashkortostan, a reference to widespread reports beginning in April 2017 that security forces and vigilantes in Chechnya were rounding up and persecuting gay men. More than two dozen suspected gay men were reportedly killed in the North Caucasus republic during the crackdown, although Chechen officials denied the reports and even the existence of gay men in Chechnya at all.
"We have had isolated incidents of attacks on gays in [Bashkortostan] since at least 2007," Abramicheva said. "But now this has become a mass phenomenon. We are talking about dozens of cases."
"Victims are afraid to go to the police because they don't want information about themselves made public," she added, explaining why she felt it was important to go public with this information.
'What Is The Point Of You?'
Ivan, an Ufa resident who asked that his real name be withheld, is a 26-year-old bisexual man who says he was a victim earlier this spring.
He said he met a man on a gay online forum who called himself Aleksei. After chatting for some time, the two agreed to meet for tea on the evening of March 17.
They went to an apartment on an upper floor of a high-rise apartment block. After a few minutes, however, the doorbell rang and Aleksei returned with another man he introduced as Ainur.
"Aleksei instantly stuck me with some sort of injection in my back and I began to feel as if I was drunk," Ivan recalled. "Ainur...began insulting me, called me a pederast, and said, 'There is a point to naturals, but what is the point of you?' He said that I was less than nothing and cursed me."
Next, Aleksei and Ainur tied Ivan to a heating battery and began hitting and kicking him. No one responded to Ivan's screams.
"The next day I went to the police and wrote out a complaint against the two guys," Ivan said. "I was called back for questioning a couple of times, but I understood that there was no point in expecting any real action from the police. My testimony wasn't enough."
Ivan has since left the Bashkir capital and is living in another city.
"The situation in Ufa is tense right now," Ivan said. "The people there are a little wild and unsympathetic. It even seemed to me that those guys who attacked me were not just homophobes but were something close to [gays] themselves who behaved like animals. Lately I have seen on the [gay] forums how people are attacking one another, trolling each other, undermining one another. Recently one guy wrote that his friend is HIV-positive [giving his name]. Yesterday someone posted the passport date of one of the guys on the forum."
Activist Abramicheva says "the main thing is to bring the problems of the LGBT community out into the public sphere, but no one is willing do that."
She worries that the violence might escalate.
"We have had information that some response is being prepared since there is no hope that the police will do anything," she said. "How that might end up, I'll need to figure out."