moscowThe body of a 23-year-old man, tortured to death, was found Friday morning in the southern city of Volgograd, the victim of an apparent homophobic attack. LGBT advocates worry this is evidence of increasing anti-gay sentiment in Russia, as it nears a national ban on “gay propaganda.”

“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, a rare admission from Russian law enforcement on the controversial topic of homophobia.

The man was reportedly hanging out with his attackers — two men, 22 and 27 — celebrating Victory Day on May 9. According to regional investigator Andrei Gapchenko, the two men started beating the victim after he told them he was gay. They have been detained in connection with the attack.

Moscow’s Investigative Committee has launched a probe but neglected to comment on the possible motives for the brutal murder. Gay rights activist Nikolai Alexeyev, head of Gay Russia, said homophobic attacks are rampant in Russia but they are rarely ever investigated as hate crimes.

“Homophobic hysteria is being increasingly promoted in Russia,” he told AFP.

Though homosexuality was officially decriminalized in 1993, homophobia is widespread, socially acceptable and, maybe as soon as July, legally mandated. Russian Parliament recently voted to approve a national ban on so-called “gay propaganda” corrupting the nation’s youth — such as Lady Gaga and Madonna.

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