Gay men are being persecuted, rounded up, abducted, and even killed in the Russian republic of Chechnya, according to news reports and a new petition by Amnesty International.
The newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported last week that up to 100 men suspected of being gay were abducted by authorities and at least three of the men have been killed in an organized government campaign. The men who are being detained have reportedly been beaten and faced electro-shock torture.
Both The New York Times and The Guardian newspapers, in reporting on the alleged abuse, quoted Russia security expert Ekaterina L. Sokiryanskaya, the Russia project coordinator for the International Crisis Group, who said she had heard reports from so many sources within Chechnya that it had to be true.
“It’s next to impossible to get information from the victims or their families,” Sokiryanskaya told The Guardian, “but the number of signals I’m receiving from different people makes it hard not to believe detentions and violence are indeed happening.”
The conservative Muslim government in Chechnya, led by President Ramzan Kadyrov, has denied the accusations by saying that it would be impossible to arrest, detain, or kill gay men because they insist that none exist in Chechnya, a statement that reflects how deeply taboo the subject of homosexuality remains in the republic.
“You cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic,” Kadyrov spokesman Alvi Karimov told Interfax. “If there were such people in Chechnya, the law-enforcement organs wouldn’t need to have anything to do with them because their relatives would send them somewhere from which there is no returning.”
The violence allegedly began after a gay rights group based in Moscow applied to hold pride parades in the heavily-Muslim North Caucasus region, expecting a denial as part of a strategy to build a case about gay rights with the European Court of Human Rights, according to the Times. They didn’t apply in Chechnya, but the government there decided to go on the offensive and reportedly ordered a “prophylactic sweep” of gay men, according to Novaya Gazeta.
Some men have been released, according to Amnesty, and in the wider Chechen community many are fleeing the persecution. A gay rights group in St. Petersburg has set up a hotline to try and help gay people in Chechnya escape, according to The Guardian.
“We need your help to remind the Russian and Chechen authorities that members of the LGBTI community have a right to feel safe and secure and it is their duty to protect that right,” Amnesty International said in the call to sign its petition.
“We need your help to call for prompt, effective and thorough investigations into the reports of abductions and killings of men believed to be gay in Chechnya. Anyone found guilty or complicit in such crimes must be brought to justice,” it said.