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Activists Helping Gays Escape Chechnya Face Threats, Home Invasions

Russian policemen surround Russian gay rights activists in Moscow in 2017.
Maxim Lapunov with David France and Olga Baranova and David Isteev

Human rights volunteers say Russia has failed to properly investigate these incidents or the continued arrests of gays and bisexuals in Chechnya.

An LGBTQ activist in St. Petersburg had a break-in at his home following death threats, according to Human Rights Watch.

The reports come amid threats aimed at many connected to the Russian LGBT Network. That organization continues to help LGBTQ individuals evade Chechnya, a semi-autonomous republic within Russia, amid a new gay purge there.

"Russian LGBT Network has been a vital resource for gay men escaping the brutality of the Chechnya purge," said Graeme Reid, Human Rights Watch's director of LGBT rights. "The Russian government, which has dragged its feet on investigating what's going on in Chechnya, needs to put a stop to attacks on people who are providing life-saving services to the victims."

The organization did not publicly identify the activist who experienced the home invasion. The group reported seven men broke into the volunteer's St. Petersburg home on May 17, then threatened to kill him. The invaders were looking for David Isteev, the Russian LGBT Network's emergency program coordinator. They also sought a woman who fled Chechnya because of her presumed sexual identity.

While multiple intruders inferred they were part of law enforcement, none provided any identification.

It's not the first time those helping persecuted individuals in Chechnya escape have faced threats. A YouTube video containing explicit death threats against Igor Kochetkov of the Russian LGBT Network began circulating in January. The video has since been removed, but Kochetkov detailed its contents in his own Facebook video.

Kotchetkov said the Interior Ministry did contact him about the threat after he a filed a report. Authorities obtained his address, but he never heard back after. He later sued the agency for its ineffective response and a St. Petersburg court sided with him in March. An appeal is pending.

Fear of reprisal by the government has kept many victims of the purge itself from filing complaints. But the European Court of Human Rights did hear a case filed by Maxim Lapunov, a victim of a 2017 Chechen purge, and ruled the Russian government failed to properly investigate human rights violations there.

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