Russian officials: Activist’s grisly murder wasn’t hate crime

The murder of Yelena “Lena” Grigoryeva, 41, a prominent Russian LGBTQ-rights activist and journalist, allegedly wasn’t politically motivated or a hate crime — despite that her name appeared on a website that listed the personal information of Russian LGBTQ activists and offered cash prizes to those who “hunted” them.

A suspect — whose name has not been released — was arrested July 25, five days after Grigoryeva was found in bushes near her St. Petersburg home with stab wounds to her back and face and signs of strangulation.

The Investigative Committee said the suspect, a 40-year-old male with a history of bad debts, was an acquaintance of Grigoryeva who killed her during an altercation.

But friends and fellow activists reported that Grigoryeva had been receiving death threats and previously was a victim of violence.

Law-enforcement officials in St. Petersburg confirmed she had reported being threatened repeatedly, but added the threats weren’t deemed a risk to her life and were related to domestic conflicts with people she knew, reported the RBC Group’s media portal.

The authorities also implicated what they characterized as the victim’s lifestyle.

“As a result of materials collected by investigators about the deceased woman, it has been established that she led an asocial lifestyle, repeatedly drinking alcoholic beverages with various people, including the suspect,” the committee said in a press statement.

Svetlana Zakharova, communications manager and a board member of the Russian LGBT Network, said fellow activists and other community members remain “very worried” about the circumstances surrounding Grigoryeva’s murder.

The website that listed the victim’s identity “publishes information like LGBT activists’ names, photos [and] addresses, and they call to hunt LGBT activists and to get a reward for that,” said Zakharova, noting the site was accessible for more than a year without repercussions from Russian authorities, despite activists’ repeated complaints.

That lack of response “tells a lot about homophobia in Russia’s institutional levels,” she added.

Grigoryeva, a Kyrgyz-born resident of St. Petersburg, was active with Russia’s Alliance of Heterosexuals and LGBT for Equality and similar groups and causes. Friends and fellow activists have posted on social media that she was worried about her safety after she found her name and personal information listed on the murder website.

Friend and fellow activist Dinar Idrisov posted July 22 on Facebook: “I learned today that Lena asked a mutual friend to take care of her cat in the event of her death when she was threatened with murder.”

“The state of Russia was obliged to guarantee her the right to life,” Idrisov added. “Lena and her lawyer appealed to law enforcement agencies both on the fact of violence and on the fact of threats, but there was no noticeable reaction [from authorities].”

Idrisov himself is no stranger to being victimized: He was beaten by three men during a St. Petersburg protest ahead of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s reelection last year, shortly after fellow activist Konstantin Sinitsyn was beaten to death.

The Moscow Times, an independent English-language newspaper in the Russian capital, reported that Grigoryeva’s mother had identified her body and that, on July 18 — two days before her murder — Grigoryeva posted an alert on Facebook about the “Saw” website, operated by a homophobic vigilante group named Saw in a nod to the popular horror-film series.

The group reportedly posted that it had “prepared very dangerous and cruel gifts” for LGBTQ activists, including Grigoryeva. Russian authorities banned the site last week.

Grigoryeva wrote that the site went online in spring 2018 and was shut down several times but always reemerged, posting personal data of “presumably LGBT-plus” activists.

“Law enforcement agencies have still not done anything to find the creators of this ‘game’ and bring them to justice,” she posted, calling on those opposed to the website to contact the Russian prosecutor’s office and the FSB, the nation’s intelligence agency.

Her brutal murder heightened tensions among Russia’s LGBTQ population, already on alert in a nation that passed a law six years ago against “LGBT propaganda” and where violence against the community is a constant threat.

In the Chechen Republic, part of the Russian Federation, an unknown number of people perceived as gay or bisexual died after being held and tortured in concentration camps, according to human-rights groups. The so-called “anti-gay purges” throughout the past two years have included reports of secret abductions, imprisonment, torture and extrajudicial killing by authorities.

Meanwhile, an LGBTQ support center in Yekaterinburg was threatened last week by an entity that proclaimed it had “liquidated gays in Chechnya and Ukraine” and warned the center that it would “become the next victim of our game” if it didn’t shut down. The emailed threat contained a link to the Saw site and an image of the center, a bomb, a bloody body and a gravestone.

The U.S. Embassy in Russia tweeted condolences to Grigoryeva’s family and friends: “Yelena Grigoryeva was a brave defender of the LGBT community’s rights, who participated in various civil initiatives. We call on the Russian authorities to hold a thorough and objective investigation.” 

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