Chechen gay men ’go missing’ in alleged anti-gay campaign
Dozens of homosexual men are disappearing in Chechnya, that is according to a leading opposition newspaper in Russia. Some are allegedly being arrested, tortured and killed by police because of their sexuality.
A report in Novaya Gazeta claims more than 100 people have been detained in an anti-gay campaign, among them well-known television personalities and religious figures.
The Novaya Gazeta article also claimed that three people had been killed, and suggested others could have been handed to their families with the expectation that the family would perform an honour killing.
Attitudes to LGBT rights are mixed in Russia, with a law banning the “propaganda of homosexuality among minors” on the books. But Moscow and other big cities have a thriving gay scene, even if much of it remains underground.
In Chechnya and the other Muslim republics of the North Caucasus, there is no discussion of the issue, and gay men do not even tell their closest friends of their orientation.
A spokesman for the Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, has denied the newspaper report, describing it as “absolute lies and disinformation,” claiming there are no gay people in Chechnya.
At the Council of Europe in Strasbourg=, rapporteur for LGBT people, Jonas Gunnarsson is leading calls for the “alarming reports” to be fully investigated and alleged victims protected.
Chechen Authorities Arresting and Killing Gay Men, Russian Paper Says
By ANDREW E. KRAMER
APRIL 1, 2017
MOSCOW — First, two television reporters vanished. Then a waiter went missing. Over the past week, men ranging in age from 16 to 50 have disappeared from the streets of Chechnya.
On Saturday, a leading Russian opposition newspaper confirmed a story already circulating among human rights activists: The Chechen authorities were arresting and killing gay men.
While abuses by security services in the region, where Russia fought a two-decade war against Islamic insurgents, have long been a stain on President Vladimir V. Putin’s human rights record, gay people had not previously been targeted on a wide scale.
The men were detained “in connection with their nontraditional sexual orientation, or suspicion of such,” the newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, reported, citing Russian federal law enforcement officials, who blamed the local authorities.
By Saturday, the paper reported, and an analyst of the region with her own sources confirmed, that more than 100 gay men had been detained. The newspaper had the names of three murder victims, and suspected many others had died in extrajudicial killings.
A spokesman for Chechnya’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, denied the report in a statement to Interfax on Saturday, calling the article “absolute lies and disinformation.”
“You cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic,” the spokesman, Alvi Karimov, told the news agency.
“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,” Mr. Karimov said.
The sweep, like so much else in Russian politics today, was entangled in the country’s troubled politics of street activism.
It began, Novaya Gazeta reported, after a Moscow-based gay rights group, GayRussia.ru, applied for permits to stage gay pride parades in four cities in Russia’s predominantly Muslim North Caucasus region, of which Chechnya is a part.
The group had not focused on the Muslim areas. It had been applying for permits for gay parades in provincial cities around Russia, and collecting the inevitable denials, in order to build a case about gay rights and freedom of assembly with the European Court of Human Rights, in Strasbourg, France. It had applied to more than 90 municipal governments. Nikolai Alekseev, a gay rights activist coordinating this effort, told Novaya Gazeta he had chosen this tactic rather than staging risky, unsanctioned gay parades.
The group had not applied for a permit in Chechnya, but in another Muslim region in southern Russia, Kabardino-Balkaria. The mere application there — denied, as usual — had prompted an anti-gay counterdemonstration.
In the restive Muslim regions, Mr. Putin has empowered local leaders to press agendas of traditional Muslim values, to co-opt an Islamist underground. The gay pride parade applications became a galvanizing issue.
“In Chechnya, the command was given for a ‘prophylactic sweep’ and it went as far as real murders,” Novaya Gazeta reported.
According to the report, the authorities set to finding and arresting closeted gay men, partly by posing as men looking for dates on social networking sites.
“Of course, none of these people in any way demonstrated their sexual orientation publicly — in the Caucasus, this is equal to a death sentence,” the newspaper wrote of those detained in the sweep.
“I got numerous, numerous signals,” about the sweep of gay men, said Ekaterina L. Sokiryanskaya,, Russia project coordinator for the International Crisis Group, and an authority on the North Caucasus. “It came from too many sources not to be true.”
Gay men have begun deleting online accounts, or fleeing the region. One user of Vkontakte, a Russian social networking site, wrote that a 16-year-old boy had been detained in a village in Chechnya. He returned days later, according to the post, “all beaten, just a sack with bones.”
The newspaper published contact information to aid men wanting to leave Chechnya for relatively more tolerant parts of Russia. But reaching communities of closeted gay men in the remote mountain region poses challenges.
“Even delivering the information is very difficult,” Ms. Sokiryanskaya, who is familiar with the aid effort, said. “They are just small islands, isolated.”
April 4, 2017
Chechnya Gay Killings & Roundups: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know
Disturbing reports say that gay men are being systematically rounded up and murdered in Chechnya.
The report – which originated in a Russian newspaper, Novaya Gazeta – claims that authorities arrested more than 100 gay men and have killed at least three.
The story gained global attention on April 2 when The New York Times reported on the Russian newspaper’s allegations. Slate Magazine reports that “the latest sweep appears to have been motivated by an organized effort by a gay rights group to request permits to stage gay pride parades.”
Novaya Gazeta reported that security services are participating in a “preventive cleansing” after anti-LGBT protests, and LGBT organizations in Russia are trying to evacuate gay men from Chechnya.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Men Who Disappeared Include Television Reporters & a Waiter
According to The New York Times, the men rounded up have ranged in age from 16 to 50.
“They have disappeared from the streets of Chechnya,” reported The Times, adding that two television reporters and a waiter are among those who vanished.
Novaya Gazeta reported that among the detainees are “prominent, influential and religious leaders close to the head of the republic, as well as two well-known Chechen TV personalities.”
The Russian newspaper also published a first-hand account with the news story, which said in part, “The youngest is 16 years old. He’s from our village. Just a few days ago he was brought back all the beaten, just a bag of bones. They threw him into the yard.”
According to Slate Magazine, “The newspaper claims authorities have been specifically seeking out closeted gay men by posing as men looking for dates on social networking sites. There is so much anti-gay hatred in Russia’s predominantly Muslim North Caucus region that family members of those killed or detained are unlikely to ask questions or demand an investigation.”
Indeed, gay men in Chechnya also face danger from their families.
“It is known that some detainees are released for ‘lack of evidence.’ However, in this case, they are in danger, which comes from relatives,” reported Novaya Gazeta. “In Chechnya, the ancient custom of ‘honor killing’ is still widespread – it is a measure that allows to wash the shame of the family by killing the culprit of this shame.”
The newspaper reported that “the wave of detentions” was called a “preventive sweep.”
2. The Newspaper Has the Names of Three Murder Victims but Says There Are Many More
Novaya Gazeta is published in the Russian language. A translation of the underlying news story shows that the newspaper reported it “became aware of mass detentions of residents of Chechnya in connection with their unconventional sexual orientation – or suspicion of such.”
The newspaper reported that 100 men were detained and added, “Novaya Gazeta knows the names of the three dead, but our sources say that there are many more victims.
“The residents of Chechnya, who were victims of persecution – even if only on suspicion of unconventional sexual orientation – have very little chance of surviving,” reported the Russian newspaper. “Relatives will not file complaints with official authorities, and the facts of detention and even the murder of their loved ones will be carefully concealed.”
3. Panicked Chechens Are Closing Their Social Media Accounts
The newspaper said that the men did not publicly demonstrate “their special sexual orientation” because “in the Caucasus it is tantamount to a death sentence” but said that their sexual orientation was difficult to hide.
Panicked Chechens were closing accounts in social networks, reported the newspaper, and some were taking great risks to “try to warn others about the threat.”
According to the Russian newspaper, the attempts to organize gay pride parades sparked anti-LBGT protests in Chechnya.
“In the entire Caucasus, this news caused massive protests, where speakers demonstrated a high level of aggression. In social networks there were made with varying degrees of creativity videos and calls for the murder of people with unconventional sexual orientation,” reported Novaya Gazeta. “It was at this time in Chechnya that a command was given to ‘preventive cleansing’ and it came to real murders.”
4. The Newspaper Is a Leading Opposition Paper
The newspaper that broke the story is known as a “leading opposition newspaper,” according to The New York Times. According to The Times, Chechnya’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, is a “vocal supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin.”
Radio Free Europe called it a “leading Russian daily.”
Slate reported that the mass arrests had been rumored for weeks.
5. The Leader of Chechnya Denied the Report by Claiming There Are No Gay Men in Chechnya ‘At All’
According to The New York Times, a spokesman for Chechnya’s leader denied the report with an unusual statement.
“You cannot detain and persecute people who simply do not exist in the republic,” the spokesman said, according to Radio Free Europe. “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.”
Radio Free Europe reported that Chechen human rights activist Kheda Saratova, “a member of the presidential human rights council, told Russian state radio that the police and ‘entire judicial system’ in Chechnya treat the murders of homosexuals by their relatives ‘with understanding.’”
April 4, 2017 3:48AM EDT
Anti-LGBT Violence in Chechnya
Russia Program Director
For several weeks now, a brutal campaign against LGBT people has been sweeping through Chechnya. Law enforcement and security agency officials under control of the ruthless head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, have rounded up dozens of men on suspicion of being gay, torturing and humiliating the victims. Some of the men have forcibly disappeared. Others were returned to their families barely alive from beatings. At least three men apparently have died since this brutal campaign began.
This chilling information was first publicised by Novaya Gazeta, a leading independent Russian paper. Their report came out on 1 April, prompting the spokesperson for Chechnya’s Interior Ministry to dismiss it as an “April fools’ joke.” Kadyrov’s press secretary immediately described the report as “absolute lies and disinformation,” contending that there were no gay people in Chechnya and then adding cynically, “If there were such people in Chechnya, law-enforcement agencies wouldn’t need to have anything to do with them because their relatives would send them somewhere from which there is no returning.”
Photo: Mass pro-Kadyrov rally organized by Chechen authorities in Grozny in January 2016.
© 2016 Marsur Iskhanov
Chechnya’s official news agency, Grozny Info, quoted numerous local commentators bashing Novaya Gazeta and other “enemies” of Chechnya and Russia for supposed attempts to discredit the Chechen people, “foster sodomy,” and undermine “traditional values.”
The information published by Novaya Gazeta is consistent with the reports Human Rights Watch recently received from numerous trusted sources, including sources on the ground. The number of sources and the consistency of the stories leaves us with no doubt that these devastating developments have indeed occurred. LGBT Network in Russia opened a special hotline to provide emergency support to those who find themselves in immediate danger.
In light of brutal repression in Chechnya, we cannot reveal our sources for fear of compromising their security. The fear of devastating reprisal is so intense that we cannot even provide detail on specific cases as the victims could suffer even more as a result of the exposure.
On Monday, 3 April President Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, stated that the Kremlin was previously not aware of the situation, but that law enforcement authorities would look into these media reports. On the one hand, this seems like good news, a signal to investigative officials to run a check promptly. On the other hand, Peskov also suggested that people who supposedly suffered from abuses by law enforcement officials should “file official complaints” and “go to court” without indicating what, if anything, Russian authorities are planning to do to protect them.
These days, very few people in Chechnya dare speak to human rights monitors or journalists even anonymously because the climate of fear is overwhelming and people have been largely intimidated into silence. Filing an official complaint against local security officials is extremely dangerous, as retaliation by local authorities is practically inevitable.
Photos: Human Rights Watch documented numerous cases in recent years showing just what fate awaits people in Chechnya who do what Peskov has suggested. For this reason, with very few exceptions, victims of torture and other horrific abuses refrain from seeking justice or withdraw their complaints as a result of threats, including death threats and threats of retaliation against family members.
Russian authorities have failed in their obligation to prevent and prosecute homophobic violence. Growing numbers of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people have been attacked and harassed across Russia in the lead-up and aftermath of the adoption of the federal anti-LGBT “propaganda” law in June 2013. The law effectively legalized discrimination against LGBT people and cast them as second-class citizens.
It is difficult to overstate just how vulnerable LGBT people are in Chechnya, where homophobia is intense and rampant. LGBT people are in danger not only of persecution by the authorities but also of falling victim to “honour killings” by their own relatives for tarnishing family honor.
So it is particularly disappointing that the Kremlin spokesman should tell the victims to use official channels to complain, without saying a word about any security guarantees. Without solid security guarantees, victims and witnesses cannot possibly come forward, and there is no chance that an effective investigation could take place.
Surely Russian authorities can do better than that. At the highest level, they should resolutely condemn attacks against LGBT people in Chechnya and ensure safety and justice for the victims.