Russia ‘not investigating’ Chechen queer persecutions

18 October 2017
Maksim Lapunov (Novaya Gazeta /YouTube)

Russian investigative bodies are not properly investigating the campaign of persecution against queer people in Chechnya, Russian rights activists announced during a press conference on 16 October in Moscow. The activists have been assisting queer Chechens flee the republic.

In August, Russia’s Public Defender Tatyana Moskalkova met Maksim Lapunov, who was persecuted by Chechen security forces for being gay. He described how he was taken prisoner by Chechen authorities. Moskalkova passed Lapunov’s testimony to the Investigative Committee of Russia in the North Caucasus.

A preliminary investigation is currently being conducted to decide whether to open an investigation or not. According to rights activists, the investigator has repeatedly violated the law and allowed information to leak which has been damaging to the case.

The head of the Russian LGBT Network, Igor Kochetkov, told OC Media the purpose of the conference was to draw public attention to the inaction of Russian investigative bodies.

Disappeared singer Zelimkhan Bakayev

During the press conference, Kochetkov confirmed that Chechen singer Zelimkhan Bakayev, who disappeared on 8 August in Grozny, could be a victim of the persecutions. According to Kochetkov, Bakayev was detained by Chechen authorities who suspected him of being gay.

On 18 September, the Chechen Ministry of Internal Affairs refused to open a criminal investigation into Bakayev’s disappearance. On 24 September after a visit by Public Defender Tatyana Moskalkova to Chechnya, a video appeared online in which Bakayev said everything was fine and he was in Germany. The video was immediately circulated on Chechen and some national TV channels.

According to Kochetkov, ‘a high-ranking EU diplomat’ confirmed that Bakayev didn’t enter the European Union in August.

Captivity and torture

The press conference opened with a story by Maksim Lapunov about how he was taken prisoner by Chechen security officials. Tatyana Lokshina, Russian programme director for Human Rights Watch, noted that Maksim acted ‘courageously’ by applying to the authorities and agreeing to speak in front of an audience.

‘Why didn’t any of the victims come forward except for Maksim? Maksim isn’t Chechen. He doesn’t have a big family back in Chechnya, for whom these sort of revelations amount to death’, Lokshina said.

Maksim Lapunov comes from Perm, near the Ural Mountains. He arrived in Chechnya two years ago to visit his friends and he decided to stay. He ended up in captivity on 16 March, taken from the streets and pushed into a car by four unknown men.

Maksim spent twelve days in a secret prison, where he was beaten and threatened with death.

‘The main accusation against me was that I was gay. I was forced to give someone up. We were brought to the basement of the police station together. We were put in different rooms, but I saw that they started beating him. They beat him for a long time, with intervals, to let him catch his breath. Then they took me to his cell. It was full of freshly spilt blood’, Maksim said during the conference.

‘They beat my legs, thighs, back, buttocks. If I fell, they let me catch my breath. They arranged face-to-face meetings with the other guy, they asked in what ways we had fun together. They did everything possible to humiliate and offend us and to flatter their vanity’, Maksim said.

Maksim said he was released only after he signed blank forms and took a gun in his hands to leave his fingerprints on it.

‘I signed these papers, I don’t know what these forms were, and the next day, in the early morning, I was taken to the station and sent home. I still have nightmares. Every evening a new “accused” was brought there and I heard their cries and moans. I call on the government and the media to address this issue, because those who act so inhumanly should answer for this. We are all people, we all have our rights’, Lapunov said.

Botched investigation

According to a lawyer for the Committee Against Torture, Vladimir Smirnov, human rights activists ‘have done everything possible to ensure that these crimes were investigated at a high level, but there was no effective investigation’.

‘On 29 September, Maksim testified in the city of Yessentuki [in Stavropol Krai]. Before this, Maksim filed several motions: to give us access to the case, to provide him with protection, and to conduct separate verification activities. But the investigator violated the Code of Criminal Procedure. He didn’t allow us to attend the trial and didn’t conduct the most important investigative measures. He didn’t conduct any identity lineups, didn’t question anyone, did nothing’, Vladimir Smirnov said.

According to Smirnov, investigator Aleksandr Kozhev conducted a ‘psychosomatic’ study with a polygraph and appointed a forensic expert to confirm the traces of Lapunov’s beating.

‘It’s quite obvious that six months after these events there were no signs of the beating on his body anymore. We realised that the investigation either hasn’t been conducted or it hasn’t been conducted in the right way’, he concluded.

The head of the Committee Against Torture, Igor Kalyapin, said that during the four weeks since the transfer of Lapunov’s case to the Investigative Committee, no verification actions have been carried out. In addition, Maksim still doesn’t have any official protection.

Igor Kalyapin told Novaya Gazeta that the applicant’s testimony was no longer confidential and was known to Chechen police.

‘The consequences of this situation, I suppose, will be very practical. For example, renovation works will be carried out in those premises where our applicant was illegally kept for twelve days. The traces of his presence there, which there was hope to find if the confidentiality of the investigation was observed and immediate investigative actions were taken, were destroyed. We have repeatedly encountered this phenomenon. Security officials who detained and tortured our applicant will be retroactively transferred to other Chechen police units’, Kalyapin told Novaya Gazeta.

According to him, everything will be done to prevent a criminal case from being opened.

‘In the refusal of the Russian authorities to investigate the crimes in Chechnya, we see conscious attempts by both the Chechen authorities and certain federal channels to mislead the public, to hide abductions and forced deprivation of liberty of people in connection with their sexual orientation’, Kochetkov said.

According the head of the Russian LGBT Network Igor Kochetkov, as of 1 April the organisation has helped 79 people leave Chechnya. Twenty-seven of them were abducted and tortured and 42 are their relatives, who were threatened and searched by security officials, who tried to force them to return their escaped relatives to Chechnya. Those evacuated also included friends of the detained.

Russian state-run news agency RIA Novosti reported that Mikhail Fedotov, head of the Presidential Council for Human Rights of Russia, said the Investigative Committee would ensure the protection of Maksim Lapunov ‘if it is necessary’.

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