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"TURN his f*****g face this way, towards the camera," says one of the torturers.

Their screaming victim, a gay man being held down, is grabbed by the hair so his agonised expression is caught on film – the thugs then laugh as they rape him out of humiliation.

19 A protest against the gay purge in Chechnya staged in Berlin in 2017Credit: AFP - Getty 19 Horrific treatment of gay people has been documented in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya in Russia, for several yearsCredit: Getty Images - Getty

The horrific scene is just one of the many disturbing videos intercepted by LGBT activists in Russia showing the sickening persecution of gay people in Chechnya.

Another shows a lesbian having a paving stone dropped on her head by he own relatives, while a third shows a man crying as brutes beat him and cut his hair off with a knife.

These appalling crimes are shown in a new BBC film, Welcome to Chechnya: The Gay Purge, a secretly-recorded documentary which looks into state-sponsored violence against gay people in the Russian republic, and the brave underground network trying to keep them safe.

19 David Isteev, Crisis Response Coordinator with the Russian LGBT Network, appearing in the documentary Welcome to ChechnyaCredit: BBC 19 Chechen special forces at a rally in Grozny, in 2014 - authorities have been accused of extrajudicial killing of gay menCredit: AP:Associated Press 19 LGBT activists around the world, like these in Germany, have denounced the purge in ChechnyaCredit: Getty Images - Getty

The situation for gay people across the Russian Federation is dire: 76 per cent of Russians believe that homosexuality is a disease or a form of sexual perversion that needs to be treated, according to a 2015 poll.

But it's particularly severe in the ultraconservative region of Chechnya, where even having a gay relative is considered shameful for the entire family.

“It is a disgrace to be gay in Chechnya," says David Isteev, a Crisis Response Coordinator with the Russian LGBT Network.

"And for a family to find out that someone is gay? It is a shame so strong it can only be washed away with blood.”

'He's going to kill me'

Such bloodlust is immediately on display in the film, when a young woman referred to as "Anya" contacts David pleading for help.

Her uncle discovered she was a lesbian, and is insisting that she have sex with him or else he'll tell her dad about her sexual orientation.

19 This woman's face was digitally imposed on Anya's head in the documentary to hide Anya's true identityCredit: BBC

Anya knows that her father, an official in the Chechen government, will not tolerate her being gay.

"He's going to kill me for sure," Anya tells David.

She's reaching out to him because the Russian LGBT Network secretly moves gay people out of Chechnya into safehouses in Moscow and St Petersburg before helping them get asylum in different countries.

Their extremely dangerous work has come in response to shocking escalations of violence in against gay men and women in Chechnya.

19 Many of the people sheltering in Russian LGBT Network safehouses had to have their faces and voices changed in the documentaryCredit: BBC 19 Protests about the purge in Chechnya have unfolded in Britain - this one attended by Peter Tatchell and Sir Ian McKellen took place outside the Russian Embassy in London in 2017Credit: AFP - Getty

They've been scapegoated by homophobic legislation and government statements that have allowed criminals to hunt down and terrorise gays as much as they like.

One example is Putin's so-called gay propaganda law, implemented in 2013, which criminalised anything that presents "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships".

The Russia-wide law was justified on the grounds of protecting family values – but critics say it's been used to justify prejudice and ultimately violence against gay people, who are deemed a threat to conservative values.

As one thug snarls in a video as he beats two boys for kissing: "All of our problems are because of people like you. We are going to kill you."

State-sponsored purge

The violence has come directly from the state too.

Chechnya, a mainly Muslim region in the south of Russia, has a bleak recent history with anti-LGBT governance.

Local sharia law in the 1990s made gay sex punishable by caning and even the death penalty for repeat offenders.

But even since returning to direct Russian rule in 2000, and adopting the nation's human rights laws, state-backed abuses have continued.

The most extreme cases began in earnest in 2017 with the start of what is now internationally viewed as purges against gay people.

In February that year, a drug raid carried out by Chechen police found pictures and texts on one of the detainees' phones that led them to believe he was gay.

19 The grimey interior of Argun Detention Centre, where many gay men say they were torturedCredit: Vice News 19 Sources within the Chechen special services said the detentions began in 2o17Credit: AFP - Getty

The authorities tortured him and made him give up the identities of other people he knew to be gay.

They in turn were tortured and forced into giving up names.

In April 2017, Novaya Gazeta, a Russian-language opposition newspaper, cited sources in the Chechen special services that 100 gay men had been captured and tortured, and at least three died in extrajudicial killings.

Yelena Milashina, who originally reported the story, was forced into hiding for months due to threats from Chechen authorities and she was even beaten by a gang in February 2020 in an attack she believes was linked to her work exposing the purge.

The danger remains so high for gay Chechens that all of the contributors to the documentary have their faces digitally swapped with someone else to mask their true identity.

They put a rat on someone’s back and a pot over it. They heated the pot. The rat would claw through the back trying to get out

Argun Prison Detainee 19 Yelena Milashina first reported the purge in 2017Credit: YouTube 19 She was beaten by a gang in Grozny earlier this year - she believes it was a reprisal for her workCredit: Facebook

One of the men in the film describes what happens to gay people dragged to the now notorious Argun Prison north of Chechen capital, Grozny.

“They would tie wires to these fingers and electrocute us," he says.

"They broke my nose too. And once we recovered, they started again with electric shocks and batons.”

19 The alleged torture at Argun has been repeatedly denied by the Chechen and Russian governmentsCredit: Vice News

He says his captors were demanding that he turn in other people like himself – and that he knew of other prisoners who endured even worse treatment.

“They put a rat on someone’s back and a pot over it. They heated the pot.

"The rat would claw through the back trying to get out. I heard someone died that way.

"But a lot of people died there.”

Many cases of gay people who go missing are never resolved.

One such case is that of Zelim Bakaev who disappeared in 2017 while attending his sister's wedding in Chechnya.

His distraught mum pleaded with the government for answers, but the Chechen Ministry of Internal Affairs refused to look into his case.

Chechen officials say Bakaev simply left the country – media reports from anonymous sources say he was tortured to death.

19Credit: Facebook Homophobic leadership

Despite the shocking testimony of Argun's inmates and pictures of painful injuries on gay people's bodies after being detained, the local and federal government turn a blind eye to the abuse.

The hatred of gay people is so strong that security forces have even released gay detainees to their families with the encouragement that they should murder them in "honour killings".

Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of the Chechen Republic and an admirer of Vladimir Putin, goes so far as to deny the existence of homosexual Chechens.

19 Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechen leader, denies the systematic persecution and torture of LGBT people in his regionCredit: AP:Associated Press

“We don’t have any gays," Kadyrov said. "If there are any, take them to Canada. Praise be to god. To purify our blood, if there are any here, take them."

When asked about the accusations of systematic detention and torture, Kadyrov replied: “They made it up. They are devils. They are for sale.

"They are subhuman. God damn them for slandering us.”

19 Kadyrov keeps close ties with the Kremlin and its strongman leader, Vladimir PutinCredit: EPA 19 Kadyrov is seen by some as Putin's brutal enforcer in ChechnyaCredit: AFP - Getty

The fear of the state-sanctioned brutality is so intense that when one of the gay men living in a safehouse slashes his wrists, the LGBT activists don't want to risk calling an ambulance to help him.

They're left to fight for his life on their own.

'We can't just walk away'

Although the situation is bleak, the documentary also showcases some of the extraordinary bravery from the LGBT community fighting back against the persecution.

One man, Maxim Lapunov, even takes the extraordinary step of identifying himself publicly and sharing his experiences in detention despite having to take his entire family into hiding in Europe for their own safety.

19 Maxim Lapunov, in the blue cardigan, took the incredible step of publicly speaking out about his tortureCredit: BBC

“I still have nightmares about that time," he said at a press conference.

"Every night they brought in new people to accuse. Those screams, begging for mercy…

"It still haunts me.”

Lapunov filed a complaint against local police when he was released from detention, but it was instantly dismissed due to a lack of evidence.

He's now taking his landmark claim to the European Court of Human Rights.

In the first two years of the gay purge in Chechnya, the Russian LGBT Network safely resettled 151 people abroad.

19 Marchers at the New York City Pride event in 2017 holding placards denouncing the treatment of LGBT people in ChechnyaCredit: Getty Images - Getty

But for crisis coordinator David, he'll carry on doing the work even as it's getting harder.

“It’s harder for me now than it was a year ago, that’s a fact,” he says.

“I am tired. It’s harder to find money, harder to get visas.

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“But we can’t just walk away. This story needs a proper ending. And that’s still very far away.

“Anyway, if they don’t kill you, you’re a winner.”

Welcome to Chechnya: The Gay Purge will be broadcast on Wednesday 1st July at 10pm on BBC Four.

Victims reveal horror as families are forced to kill their gay sons in Chechnya

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Dancers outside Brooklyn jail are cover movement for Nxivm sex cult

A group that’s been holding nightly dances in support of inmates at a federal lockup in Brooklyn may have begun as “cover movement” of Keith Raniere, the convicted leader of infamous upstate sex cult Nxivm, according to a report.

Former members of Nxivm told the The Times Union that some organizers of the We Are As You campaign are loyal disciples of Raniere, who is awaiting sentencing at the Metropolitan Detention Center on charges including racketeering, sex trafficking and forced labor conspiracy.

“It’s a cover movement for Keith Raniere — it’s a Trojan Horse,” said Mark Vicente, a former high-ranking Nxivm member who testified against Raniere at his trial last year.

“Why are all the key figures Raniere loyalists? This is all in tribute to Raniere.”

A handful of folks associated with the dance group gyrated in front of the jail Tuesday night as music played from a parked car — but they refused to say whether they were there to support Raniere.

“If you make this about a sex cult, again, that’s dishonesty,” one of the attendees, a man sporting a blue bandanna, said.

Another dancer referred The Post to the group’s website, where it’s described as “a nightly dance demonstration … to remind those inside [the jail] they are not forgotten.”

Nothing on the group’s website and social media appears to mention Raniere or Nxivm.

Near the dancers, a Post reporter spotted signs that read “We miss you Kay Rose” and “Love U Kay Rose,” which the Union reported was code for Keith Raniere. There is no inmate named Kay Rose inside the jail.

Asked if she knew who Kay Rose was, one of the dancers shook her head no.

Ex-cult members acknowledged to the Union that it’s impossible to know how many of the participants are actually familiar with the sick self-help guru, who was convicted last June of running a secret society within Nxivm called DOS, in which women were branded like cattle and forced to have sex with him.

But Vicente told the paper that at least six people leading the dancers are well-known Nxivm members and that the group’s followers on social media are a “Who’s Who of the Nxivm World.”

He and other former Nxivm followers and critics of the cult fear that people with loved ones inside the jail will support the dance movement, while unaware of its alleged sinister undertones.

Asked if there is any connection between the group and Nxivm, a We Are As You Are staffer told the Union: “It’s for all the friends and family who have people inside.”

“This is really just about providing entertainment for guys who have been on lockdown for months and haven’t been able to have visitors and see their families, so that’s what it’s about…,” she said.

Filed under brooklyn ,  cults ,  jail ,  nxivm ,  7/15/20 Share this article: Share this:
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