By Kate Murphy
Torture, mass arrests and even killings. They’re all part of a feared brutal crackdown on gay men in the Russian Republic of Chechnya.
Following two bloody civil wars, Chechnya, a predominantly Muslim region of Russia, gained the right to run its own affairs. It’s led by Ramzan Kadyrov, a Kremlin supporter once described as a “medieval tyrant” by a Chechnyan warlord, who was later killed by Kadyrov.
Homosexuality is officially condemned in Chechnya, but many gay men say they were able to have a hidden social life before the crackdown.
So how did we get to this point?
The crackdown began after a rights-based group in Moscow applied for gay pride parade permits in the majority-Muslim region, which brought about counterprotests by religious groups.
In early April, a Russian opposition newspaper called Novaya Gazeta first reported that authorities in Chechnya were rounding up over 100 gay men, or men suspected of being gay, and torturing them in detention centers. It also reported that at least three of them had been killed.
Kadyrov has denied the allegations of the persecution of gay men. Kadyrov’s spokesman Alvi Karimov said, “You cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic.” He added, “If such people existed in Chechnya, law enforcement would not have to worry about them, as their own relatives would have sent them to where they could never return.”
This is in fact a real concern of gay Chechen men. An anonymous Chechen man told CNN, “If my family finds out I’m gay, then no authorities, no troops are needed. They will kill me themselves.”
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has put the pressure on Russia to condemn the reported attacks. She released a statement saying, “We continue to be disturbed by reports of kidnapping, torture and murder of people in Chechnya based on their sexual orientation and those persecuted by association.”
But ignoring the outcry, Putin’s spokesman said Russian authorities didn’t find any evidence to support the reports of arrests and torture from the Chechen police. It came just a day after Putin and Kadyrov met for a televised meeting.
Now the Russian LGBT Network is helping to evacuate Chechens who have been tortured or are currently in danger.
A video created by Human Rights First is also bringing awareness to the issue as gay men from Russia read personal accounts of torture from Chechen victims. One of the accounts said, “They called us animals, not humans, they say that we are going to die there.”
So, while it remains to be seen what will be done by Russia and the international community, when it comes to the deplorable human rights abuses in Chechnya, at least you can say, now I get it.