NOTE: This article contains disturbing content that may be triggering for some readers.
By Ellen Barry
MOSCOW — The brutal murder of a 23-year-old man in the southern city of Volgograd was motivated by homophobia, investigators said Sunday, a rare acknowledgment that comes during a period of rising conservative and antigay sentiment from Russian officials.
The man’s body was found naked in the courtyard of an apartment building, his skull smashed with a stone, and he appeared to have been sodomized with several beer bottles, according to local investigators. Natalia Kunitskaya, a spokeswoman for the Volgograd Regional Investigative Committee, said Sunday that the man’s sexual orientation appeared to be the reason that he was killed, according to the news agency RIA Novosti.
Three men have been arrested in connection with the crime, including one former classmate of the victim’s and one man who said he had watched as others beat the man to death. Federal investigators released a statement saying the crime began when a group of men who were drinking beer on Thursday in a park to commemorate the Allied victory over Nazi Germany in 1945 heard the victim say he was gay. The suspects “cruelly beat the victim,” and he “died on the spot,” investigators said.
NTV, a Russian television channel, reported that the man’s face had been so badly damaged that the police initially could not identify him. The crime’s unusual savagery made it national news in Russia. Critics of the government said Russian politicians had promoted homophobia in recent months, as part of a broad rejection of liberal influences that are seen as emanating from the West.
Early this year, by a vote of 388 to 1, Russian lawmakers approved a bill outlawing “homosexual propaganda,” with fines of up to $16,000 for violations. On two occasions, rights advocates who demonstrated against the bill were assaulted or pelted with eggs as police officers looked on. More recently, President Vladimir V. Putin has said Russia may curtail adoptions of Russian children by people from Western countries where same-sex marriage is legal.
Prosecutors are treating the investigation as a murder case, with sentences of up to 15 years for conviction.
Nikolai Alekseyev, a leading gay-rights activist in Russia, told the news agency Interfax that he was afraid that the murder in Volgograd “will be investigated as one caused by a trivial row, and the homophobic motive will gradually disappear from all the documents.” He said activists would push for the inclusion of hatred based on sexual orientation as an aggravating circumstance in violent crimes.
The Volgograd case “demonstrates the fruits of homophobic policy that is being pursued in the country,” Mr. Alekseyev said. “Such crimes will increase in number from year to year unless this policy is changed.”
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