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Yelena Grigorieva
Courtesy of Facebook/Dinar Idrisov

An LGBTQ+ activist was murdered after being listed on a ‘gay-hunting’ site

Yelena Grigorieva was found with eight stab wounds near her house in Saint Petersburg

It was called a “game”. The grisly, Saw-inspired website that led to the brutal killing of journalist and activist 41-year-old Yelena Grigorieva near her home in Saint Petersburg last Saturday (July 20) had been used to identify gay people, upload their photos and personal information to a database, urging visitors of the site to “hunt” them down and torture them. While the website has since been blocked by Russian authorities, and a suspect has been arrested, there has been no direct evidence to correlate Grigorieva’s killing to the homophobic group. 

While it is likely that the event is related to anti-LGBTQ activity in Russia – it was only a few months ago that gay and bisexual men were being detained, starved and beaten in Chechnya – police are treating the matter as an instance of domestic violence, not as a hate crime. Below, we attempt to unpack what happened, what activists are saying, and how Russian authorities are responding. 

WHO IS YELENA GRIGORIEVA?

Yelena Grigorieva was a 41-year-old journalist and activist based in Saint Petersburg, Russia, whose protests ranged from domestic violence and prisoner rights to Russian aggression in Ukraine and more recently, LGBTQ+ rights. In January this year, she came out as bisexual and was last seen on Saturday evening with her girlfriend and four men, drinking spirits on a bench near her home. 

WHAT HAPPENED

Grigorieva was found dead with eight stab wounds and signs of strangulation near her home in central Saint Petersburg, as reported by Russian newspaper Fontanka. She had posted about receiving death threats on Facebook two days before she was found dead. Two months ago, Grigorieva was attacked at the entrance to her home and told that LGBTQ+ people have “no right to live”, while in early July, her name was listed on an assasination list by a Russian group called Saw (after the horror film franchise of the same name), whose website – that was live until last week – offered cash rewards to those prepared to harm and kill LGBTQ+ people.

According to the Independent, Grigorieva reported these threats to the police, even asking her friend Alexander Mironov to look after her cat if anything happened to her. The Moscow Times reported that one suspect has been arrested in relation to Grigorieva’s death.

HOW ACTIVISTS HAVE REACTED

Seven more LGBTQ+ activists listed on the website have asked Russia’s investigative committee to examine the relationship between Grigorieva’s killing and the hate group, while officials at the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBTQ+ rights organisation in America, called on Russian officials to conduct a “thorough investigation”.

Fellow activist and friend Dinar Idrisov said Grigorieva “encountered a system unprepared, unable and unwilling to defend her”. Maxim Olenichev, a lawyer for the Vykhod LGBTQ+ rights groups, said: “this could be hatred on grounds of political convictions, homophobia or a domestic dispute. Every lead needs to be considered, and those guilty found and punished.” 

“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.

HOW OFFICIALS HAVE REACTED

Despite the Saint Petersburg office of Russia’s Investigative Committee opening a criminal case into the murder, Grigorieva death is being treated as a domestic dispute, not a hate crime, according to Rosbalt.ru news website. Police said that while they examined “multiple” complaints from Grigorieva, they maintained that they all centred on domestic disputes and “none of them concerned possible threats to the life of the victim”.

THE CONTINUING CASE

A suspect described as a “40-year-old resident of Bashkortostan,” has been detained by police, according to NBC.

Though Russia continues to uphold its “gay propaganda” laws, recent surveys carried out with Russian citizen participants highight that such intolerance is not as widespread. 43 percent of those surveyed said “gays and lesbians should enjoy the same rights as other citizens,” as the Moscow Times reported.

As it stands, Russia has had to deal with very literally repercussions internationally for its attacks on LGBTQ+ rights. Earlier in July, the European Court of Human Rights ruled Russia must pay a pitiful 42,500 euros ($47,400) in damages to LGBTQ+ groups whose registration the state had rejected.