The ECHR adopted its judgment in the case of Maksim Lapunov — he was the first who publicly revealed the persecution of LGBT-people in Chechnya


12 September 2023


The European Court found a violation of Art. 5 (unlawful restriction to liberty) and Art. 3 in conjunction with Article 14 (torture motivated by sexual orientation) of the Convention. The ECHR awarded Mr. Lapunov compensation for non-pecuniary damage in the amount of 52 000 euros*. The Court found that Maksim was tortured for 12 days in the spring of 2017 because of his sexual orientation, but Russia refused to conduct an objective investigation. Nevertheless, due to Maksim’s testimony, the whole world discovered the truth about the persecution of LGBT-people in the North Caucasus region.

Maksim Lapunov, a resident of the Omsk region, arrived in Chechnya in 2015, where he started working as a presenter at events. Maksim told the lawyers that in March 2017, in the center of Grozny, he was arrested by people in plain clothes and taken to the basement of one of the police departments, the so-called “prison for gays». Trying to get information about LGBT individuals in the Chechen Republic, the police officers beat Maksim with pieces of polypropylene pipes, tortured him with electric shock, and threatened to kill him.

Maksim recalls the following: «Every 10-15 minutes, while I was being beaten, all sorts of people ran into the cell shouting that I was gay, that people like me should be killed. Day after day, they described what methods they would use to kill me, and how it would happen

According to Mr. Lapunov, he was forced to leave his fingerprints on a firearm and to record a video confession of his homosexual orientation. Subsequently, Maksim was released, being told that he was to be killed if he spoke about what had happened. Maksim believes that he was released only because his abduction caused a wide public discussion and attracted a lot of attention in those regions where Chechen law enforcement agents do not have the power to keep people silent.

«I decided to lodge an application because, as a citizen of the Russian Federation, I understand my rights well. I had no relatives in Chechnya, I am not a Chechen and do not belong to that nation, so I had nothing to fear. I have a heightened sense of justice, and such cruel things have never happened to me before

Human rights activists from the SK SOS Crisis Group and the Crew Against Torture provided aid to Maskim. The SOS Group ensured the safety and evacuation of Maksim from Chechnya, and subsequently from Russia. The CAT lawyers conducted their own investigation, collecting evidence of torture for a crime report lodged before the Investigative Committee, and subsequently dealt with the case at the domestic level.

Despite the personal request of the Ombudsperson Tatyana Moskalkova for state protection for Mr. Lapunov, it was never provided. Human rights activists were not allowed to take part in investigative actions, and Maksim was not allowed to participate in the examination of the crime scene. Actually, he was ready to show the investigator the traces of his presence left behind. Despite the risks, Maksim himself filed a crime report and participated in the official inquiry, having returned to the Caucasus region. The CAT lawyers lodged several complaints before the domestic courts, reporting omissions made by the investigator during the inquiry. Some omissions were acknowledged by the courts, but that fact did not help the official investigation. Due to the growing threat to his life and health, Maksim left Russia.

«The move was very stressful for me. It was necessary to establish a new life, but I couldn’t pull myself together, I was constantly in the experience of what had happened to me.»

In March 2018, the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation refused to open a criminal case into the events. In May 2019, human rights defenders lodged a complaint before the European Court of Human Rights.

Today, the ECHR published a judgment in the case of Maksim Lapunov, according to which he was subjected to targeted ill-treatment solely because of his sexual orientation and homophobic motive. The Court also concluded that Russia failed to investigate Mr. Lapunov’s allegations and to take any reasonable steps to examine the role that homophobic motives may have played in the applicant’s ill-treatment.

«Novaya Gazeta» reported on the mass persecution of gays in Chechnya in April 2017. According to the publication, at that time more than a hundred people were arrested and tortured in the Republic due to their homosexual orientation; at least three individuals were killed. The Chechen authorities deny this allegation.

In 2020, there was the premiere of the film «Welcome to Chechnya» that describes the persecution of LGBT-people in the region. The event attracted the attention of the international community, and this is how the case of Maksim Lapunov became known far beyond the borders of Russia.

Currently, the young man is safe, and his monologue about life after torture was recorded by the SK SOS Crisis Group shortly before the ECHR judgment.

«Sometimes other torture victims write to me, looking for support and asking for advice. I usually tell them about how I have gone through that situation. I personally know what it’s like: six years later, it’s still hard to go through some trigger moments. I still get tremors, and I still stutter when I’m nervous.»

* Since the Russian Federation has withdrawn from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights, the Court’s judgment will not be executed by Russia.

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