The admission that the brutal murder of a 23-year-old man in the city of Volgograd was motivated by homophobia is a rare acknowledgment amid a period of rising conservative and anti-gay sentiment from Russian officials.
But gay rights activist Nikolai Alekseyev told the Interfax news agency he feared the murder "will be investigated as one caused by a trivial row, and the homophobic motive will gradually disappear from all the documents".
The case "demonstrates the fruits of homophobic policy being pursued in the country", he said. "Such crimes will increase in number from year to year unless this policy is changed."
The victim's body was found naked in the courtyard of an apartment building, his skull smashed with a stone, and he appeared to have been sodomised with several beer bottles, according to investigators. A spokeswoman for the Volgograd Regional Investigative Committee, Natalia Kunitskaya, said on Sunday the man's sexual orientation appeared to be the reason he had been killed, according to the news agency RIA Novosti.
Three men have been arrested over the crime, including a former classmate of the victim's and a man who said he watched as others beat the man to death.
Investigators released a statement saying the crime occurred when a group of men drinking beer in a park on Thursday heard the victim say he was gay. They "cruelly beat the victim" and he "died on the spot".
Russian television channel NTV reported that the man's face was so badly damaged that police initially could not identify him. The crime's unusual savagery made it national news in Russia.
Critics of the government said politicians had promoted homophobia recently as part of a broad rejection of liberal influences emanating from the West.
Early this year, by a vote of 388-1, Russian lawmakers approved a bill outlawing "homosexual propaganda", with fines of up to US$16,000 for violations. On two occasions, rights advocates who demonstrated against the bill were assaulted or pelted with eggs as police looked on. More recently, President Vladimir Putin said Russia may curtail adoptions of Russian children by people from Western countries where same-sex marriage is legal.
Alekseyev, head of the group Gay Russia, said he feared the legislative initiatives were fuelling intolerance. "Homophobic hysteria is being increasingly promoted in Russia," he said. Attacks against homosexuals were widespread but almost never investigated as hate crimes.