In 2017, police operating in Chechnya, Russia, had captured and detained about 100 gay men in detention centres. The men were detained due to their homosexuality, whether confirmed or suspected, and at least three of them were murdered by authorities.
This year, another wave of anti-gay purges has begun in Chechnya, starting with the deaths of two individuals and the detentions of 40 men and women in similar concentration camps. In this recent wave, some detainees were either released or managed escape. Their testimonies all share a similar memory of violence: police authorities torturing detainees for information on other queer people.
“Their aim was to find out your circle of contacts,” one victim said to Novaya Gazeta. “In their minds, if you are a suspect then your circle of contacts are all gay.”
Detainees were tortured daily, with some even being beaten to death. On this senseless violence, the victim continued: “They always hit us below the waist – on the thighs, the buttocks, the loins. They said we were dogs who had no right to life.”
Homophobia in Russia has been rampant for years: under Putin, various laws have been put in place to prevent the spread of “gay propaganda” – one law in particular bans “homosexual propaganda amongst minors”, calling homosexuality “non-traditional”. In an article for The Mic, Almir Hodzic reports that about 74% of Russian citizens do not believe that queer folk should be integrated into and accepted by society, and 44% believe homosexual acts should be criminalised.
“The persecution of men and women suspected of homosexuality never ceased,” said Igor Kochetkov, programme director for the Russian LGBT Network when speaking to Gay Times. “The only thing that has changed is its scale.”
And currently, that scale has increased to targeted homophobic attacks endorsed by authorities and citizens alike. A thirty-year-old man named Ruslan, for example, was locked in his room for a month by his family, after a text from his boyfriend was seen by a relative. In another family, a seventeen-year-old boy was murdered by his uncle, who pushed him from a balcony on the 9th floor.
The attacks are also known not to discriminate against more well-off queers. Russian singer Zelim Bakaev has been missing since 8 August 2017. Russian authorities have denied allegations of Bakaev’s kidnapping, as well as allegations relating to those being held captive and killed in detention centres.
“We don’t have these kinds of people here,” said Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov, referring to queer people. Other authorities, such as the Minister of National Policy, Dzhambulat Umarov, have also maintained denial, calling the reports of the purge “fantasy”.
International bodies such as the US and UK have urged Russian and Chechen officials to take action against this gross violation of human rights. In a letter responding to pleas of many politicians and human rights organisations, UK Prime Minister Theresa May said, “Urgent action is also being taken to explore how best to provide support to the LGBT+ community in the region.”
Other countries, such as France and Canada, have opened their borders to persecuted Chechen refugees.
In Chechnya itself, The Russian LGBT Network, a queer rights NGO, has aided in protecting queer people in the region and across Russia. Currently, the network is focused on evacuating those in danger from Chechnya. To donate, visit their website.
By JASON MASEKO