The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A horror-themed website told readers to ‘hunt’ gay people. Then an activist was stabbed to death.

The slain political and LGBT rights activist Yelena Grigorieva is shown in a photo at a demonstration in St. Petersburg on Tuesday. Grigorieva's body was found Saturday near her home with stab wounds and signs of strangulation. (Dmitri Lovetsky/AP)

The frightening Russian website promoted it as a “game” — identify gay people, upload their photos and information to a database and then proceed to hunt them down and torture them, as in the gruesome “Saw” movies that inspired the site’s name.

The page was blocked in Russia last week, but not before the names of prominent journalists and activists began appearing there. Yelena Grigorieva was among them. The 41-year-old was a fierce advocate for LGBTQ rights, and on Saturday she was found dead near her home in St. Petersburg with eight stab wounds and signs that she had been strangled.

One suspect has been arrested, local media reported.

The grisly attack is the latest in a spate of violence and threats against the gay community in Russia, where in 2013 the government outlawed “gay propaganda” — a ban that a European court later said “reinforced stigma and prejudice and encouraged homophobia.”

"This tragedy is yet another painful episode in the ongoing plague of anti-LGBTQ violence and atrocities that have been taking place in Russia and the region,” Jay Gilliam, global director of the Human Rights Campaign, told The Washington Post.

Grigorieva’s killing prompted protests in Russia’s second-largest city on Tuesday, and demonstrators there connected her death to her activism.

“Yelena was killed because she was not afraid to tell the truth about the subjects that are traditionally silent in Russia and on the country’s state TV channels,” protester Marina Ken told the Associated Press.

Grigorieva, who was also active in a number of other causes, regularly received death threats and reported them to the police, who her friends say didn’t take them seriously, the Moscow Times reported. Officials at the Human Rights Campaign, which is the largest LGBTQ rights organization in the United States, called on Russian law enforcement to conduct “a thorough investigation.”

“Those same authorities and leaders have an obligation to protect those targeted because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and their allies,” Gilliam said. “Leaders must also publicly condemn this atrocity and uphold the human rights of LGBTQ people.”

But Russian activists say there is scant public support for the gay community, and open hostility is routine.

“Activists always face certain dangers,” Igor Kochetkov, who heads the Russian LGBT Networks and was also named on the Saw site, told the Independent. “Murder is certainly exceptional, but the threats come almost daily. Authorities ignore the sites and social media groups that distribute those threats and lists.”

The website that targeted Grigorieva, Kochetkov and others began operating in April 2018, welcoming “gay hunters” to participate in “Chechnya’s Comeback,” an apparent reference to reports of a brutal, state-sanctioned purge of gay men from the Russian region in 2017.

Just days before she was killed, Grigorieva wrote a Facebook post about the site, NBC News reported. Saw was organizing a “hunt for homosexual, bisexual and transgender people,” she wrote, and, “Law enforcement agencies have still not done anything to find the creators of this ‘game’ and bring them to justice.”

Three days later, her body was found in bushes near her home.

The Russian news site Meduza, which operates from Latvia, reported that police have not yet said whether they intend to investigate Grigorieva’s death as a hate crime.

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