MOSCOW – A 23-year-old man has been tortured to death in Russia in an apparent homophobic attack, investigators said Sunday, amid growing fears by rights groups that anti-gay sentiments are on the rise in the country.
The victim's battered and naked body was found in the courtyard of an apartment building in the southern city of Volgograd on Friday morning, said a spokeswoman for regional investigators.
The young man had suffered numerous injuries, including to the genitalia, and had been sodomised with several beer bottles.
"He was raped with beer bottles and had his skull smashed with a stone," Natalia Kunitskaya, a spokeswoman for the Volgograd region branch of the Investigative Committee, told AFP.
She confirmed the attack was believed to have been a hate crime, in a rare admission from Russian law enforcement agencies on the sensitive issue of homophobia in the country.
Two men aged 22 and 27 have been detained in connection with the attack, the Moscow-based Investigative Committee said in a statement on Saturday. One of the suspects has a criminal history, investigators said.
The victim was said to have been drinking with the two men, apparently while celebrating Victory Day which Russia marks on May 9.
Regional investigator Andrei Gapchenko told Echo of Moscow radio on Saturday that two men started beating the victim after he told them he was gay.
The Investigative Committee's tersely-worded statement said investigators had opened a murder probe, without commenting on possible motives for the killing.
Russia decriminalised homosexuality in 1993 and officially removed it from the list of psychiatric disorders in 1999.
But homophobia remains widespread and socially acceptable, and almost no public figures have come out as gay.
Several Russian regions have outraged rights campaigners by approving local laws banning "gay propaganda" among minors, in legislation which is now being discussed at the federal parliament.
President Vladimir Putin, who prides himself on his macho image, has repeatedly denied that Russia was violating gay rights.
But he recently warned that Russia could change agreements for the adoption of Russian children with Western countries that are legalising gay marriage, such as France.
Nikolai Alexeyev, the head of Gay Russia, a group working to raise the profile of gay rights, expressed concern that the Kremlin's official rhetoric and recent legislative initiatives could be fuelling intolerance.
"Homophobic hysteria is being increasingly promoted in Russia," he told AFP.
He said attacks against homosexuals are widespread in the country but are almost never investigated as hate crimes.