(Reuters) – They beat him. They shoved beer bottles in his anus. They tried to set him on fire. Then they crushed his head with a heavy stone.
A 23-year-old man in Russia’s southern city of Volgograd was tortured and killed after revealing he was gay during a drinking session last Thursday night, investigators said, taking a rare step by linking a murder to homophobia.
The victim’s 22-year-old friend and a former convict aged 27 were detained for the attack, which gay rights activists say is a brutal example of rising violence against homosexuals in the year since President Vladimir Putin latched on to family values to shore up support in Russia’s largely conservative society.
Along with a planned new law banning the spread of gay "propaganda" among minors, Putin has also overseen a religious revival that aims to give the Orthodox Church, whose leader has suggested that homosexuality is one of the main threats to Russia, a more public role as a moral authority.
Gay rights campaigner Nikolai Alexeyev said the draft law, which could be passed this month, and Putin’s criticism of gays for failing to help Russia’s population decline, amounted to "a call to action for the scum who committed this crime".
"It essentially gives these people carte blanche to commit such crimes," he said of the law, a local version of which is already in place in Russia’s second city of St Petersburg.
The number of documented cases of violence against gays in Russia is low. Rights group Sova, which tracks extremist violence, says violence against gays has risen sharply – but from only three recorded attacks in 2011 to 12 in 2012.
But there are no official figures on anti-gay crime in Russia, and gay rights campaigners say the numbers available mask the true number of attacks on gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people. Most go unreported, or are not classified as such by the police.
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