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Russian villagers are suspected of kicking and stabbing to death a neighbour in the remote far eastern region of Kamchatka because he was gay, investigators said Monday.
Three men from the village of Zaporozhye allegedly killed a man last Wednesday because he "had a non-traditional sexual orientation," the Investigative Committee said in a statement, using a euphemism for homosexual.
It was highly unusual for investigators to state publicly that the attack was believed to have been driven by homophobia. However the suspects are being investigated for murder, not for a hate crime, a classification that is still rarely used.
The victim was identified by the Interfax news agency as the 39-year-old deputy director of a local airport, citing police.
The three suspects were detained after police found the victim's body in his burnt-out car. Police named one suspect as a 21-year-old worker at a fish-processing plant.
"The victim died at the scene from his injuries. Then the suspects tried to cover up the crime by putting the body in his car, pouring on petrol and setting it alight," the Investigative Committee said.
The brutal murder came less than a month after a 23-year-old man was beaten to death and sodomised with beer bottles in an apparent homophobic attack in the southern city of Volgograd.
"This is the second murder in a month based on homophobia," gay rights activist Nikolai Alexeyev, organiser of gay pride events in Moscow that are regularly broken up by riot police, wrote on Twitter.
Russia decriminalised homosexuality in 1993 but homophobia remains widespread and socially acceptable.
The Russian parliament is now considering passing a controversial national law banning "homosexual propaganda" among minors. The law is already in place in several regions including Saint Petersburg.
Some experts suggested the bill had led to a rise in homophobic attacks.
"It's obvious that the energetic discussion of laws on propaganda of homosexuality has prompted radical homophobes to activate," Alexander Verkhovsky, director of the non-governmental organisation Sova that tracks hate crimes, told AFP.
"Every flare-up leads to the involvement of more radicals."
Yet parliamentary deputy Yelena Senatorova, one of the homosexual propaganda bill's backers, said Monday she did not believe the bill had any connection to such homophobic crimes.
"I do not consider that this tension in society is over the bill on banning propaganda," she told Echo of Moscow radio station.
Independent polling agency Levada found in March that 35 percent of Russians thought homosexuality was an illness that needed treatment, while 16 percent said gay people should be isolated from society.