Kremlin-backed Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov has faced wide international criticism since a Russian newspaper reported this spring that his security forces had detained some 100 gay men, torturing or killing some of them.
“This is nonsense. We don’t have those kinds of people here. We don’t have any gays. If there are any, take them to Canada,” Kadyrov says in an interview with HBO Kadyrov also called those making the allegations “devils.”
“God damn them for what they are accusing us of,” he said.
Chechnya, a predominantly Muslim region in southern Russia, was devastated by two wars between separatists and Russian forces in the past quarter-century. Kadyrov, a former rebel who switched his loyalties to Moscow, has been the dominant figure there since the 2004 assassination of his president father, Akhmad Kadyrov.
Kadyrov’s security forces have been widely accused of extensive human-rights abuses including abductions and killings in Chechnya. A former officer of his security forces has been convicted of the 2015 assassination of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.
A demonstrator holders a placard depicting Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov with the label ‘murderer’, to denounce the anti-gay campaign launched in the Russian province of Chechnya, during a protest held on Place de la Republique in Paris, France, 20 April 2017.
Several dozen men suspected of being homosexuals have been rounded up and detained by authorities in Chechnya, with at least three men allegedly killed so far.
He has strongly promoted Chechnya’s Islamic culture, including opening what is claimed to be Europe’s largest mosque in the capital, Grozny. An avid boxer, he has promoted mixed martial arts and other fighting sports in the republic.
“America is not really a strong enough state for us to regard it as an enemy of Russia. We have a strong government and are a nuclear state. Even if our government were completely destroyed, our nuclear missiles would be automatically deployed,” he said.
According to representatives from the Russian LGBT Network and reports that appeared this week in the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, over 100 homosexual men in the Chechen Republic have been rounded up and taken to prison camps, and at least three of the prisoners have been killed.
The Network’s Svetlana Zakharova told MailOnline, SPY HOLLYWOOD and the BBC that some of the prisoners had escaped and reported that they had all been kept in the same room with between 30 and 40 other men, some of whom were beaten, given electrical shocks or even killed, though some of them have been released to their families with the expectation that they will be subjected to honor killing.
In a statement to the Interfax news agency, Alvi Karimov, spokesperson for the Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov denied the claims but did so on the grounds that there were no homosexuals in Chechnya: “You cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic[.] If such people existed in Chechnya, law enforcement would not have to worry about them since their own relatives would have sent them to where they could never return.”
Chechnya does not admit many foreign journalists, and Ekaterina Sokirianskaia of the International Crisis Group admits that clear information has been scarce, saying there were yet to be any “confirmed cases.” This may be due to the extreme secrecy surrounding homosexuality in Chechnya, where most gay men remain closeted. “It’s next to impossible to get information from the victims or their families,” she told The Media, “but the number of signals I’m receiving from different people makes it hard not to believe detentions and violence are indeed happening.”
The Russian LGBT Network has set up a hotline for more information and appealed to Russia’s Federal Investigation Commission but Zakharova says that, so far, “there is still no reaction at all.”
Though officially part of Russia, Chechnya can legally act as an independent country in some capacities.
These testimonies included further details including beatings, mobile phone seizures so authorities can check them for details of other gay men, and set ups where captured gay men were forced to arrange meetings with other gay men so that more could be arrested. The situation could not be more serious.
Late last week, the newspaper that first exposed the atrocities in Chechnya, Novaya Gazeta, issued a statement in which they said that Kadyrov had accused them publicly of slander and said that they were ‘the enemies of our faith and our homeland’. He went on to endorse calls for violence against their journalists, and many are now in hiding. First gay men, now journalists. Who next?
Foreign Office ministers have spoken out, as have UN officials and other European political leaders. Their words are laudable, and none of us would disagree with them.
But for too long we didn’t speak out about what we would now call human rights abuses in Nazi Germany, and that led us to war. I’m not suggesting we need military action against Chechnya, but we do need to be speaking out, negotiating, and using every diplomatic channel available to challenge these abuses.
At last week’s protest, Lord Alli quoted Martin Niemöller’s famous poem. “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.”That embodies why we must speak out: it’s an affront to our common humanity if we do not stand up, make noise, and challenge what is happening in Chechnya.
Anzor was lying on a dirty floor as a man in army boots jumped on his back. His agony worsened when his captors started torturing him with electric shocks.
“It’s a feeling like they are breaking every bone of every joint in your body at the same time,” he said.
After his ordeal, Anzor fled Chechnya and is now in hiding in Moscow, fearing not only for his own life but for the safety of his relatives. He spoke with The Associated Press on the condition of using only his first name.
Antipathy to homosexuality in Russia is widespread. Gay rights activists’ requests to hold rallies are routinely rejected by officials and any rallies that do take place are often attacked by anti-gay thugs. But “this anti-gay purge, sanctioned by top local authorities, is unprecedented,” said Tanya Lokshina, the Russia program coordinator for Human Rights Watch.
Another gay man, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, told the media that he was also arrested in Chechnya and held with dozens of others.
“We were tortured every day. Beside beatings, we were beaten several times a day with polypropylene tubes. We were tortured with electricity,” he said.”For 20-30 seconds they spin the handle, you feel the electricity, then you fall down, they stop it, and then immediately you come back to consciousness and you are ready again for a new discharge,” he said. “And it goes on five, six, seven times.”
The abuse was first reported in April by the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which said that about 100 men suspected of being gay were rounded up and tortured, and that at least three were killed.
Homosexuality is a taboo in conservative Chechnya, and the gay community there was used to leading a double life — marrying, having children and hiding their sexuality from even their closest family members.
The only time a gay man in Chechnya could be himself is when he met with another gay person, typically through social media, Anzor said.
“The rest of the time we are pretending,” he said.
Anzor, who talked to the media at a safe house provided by LGBTQ activists, fears for the lives of his family members who will become pariahs in the patriarchal Chechen society if his identity is revealed.
“Sometimes families turn away from such people, some families get rid of such people,” he said of gays, a word he is visibly uncomfortable using. “I’m scared for my family, my sisters and brothers. I don’t want them to suffer for me.”
Anzor, in his 40s, said the ordeal began when police stopped the car in which he was riding with friends in the town of Argun. They were taken to a police station after officers found a sedative pill on one friend. Small details that Anzor didn’t want to make public led the police to believe that he and one of his friends were gay, he said.They were brutally beaten in front of the police station chief and taken to a shed. Anzor spent 10 days there.
He said the shed had dozens of men who were beaten and abused by camouflaged men. In the first few days, the beatings were so frequent that he stopped feeling any pain, Anzor said, overcome at the memory. Inmates were made to attach the clamps of electric wires to their toes and fingers — and the captors would then turn on the power.Then the torture stopped. Several days later Anzor was taken outside and told that he was free to go — without any explanation.
He thought about going to a neighboring region and reporting his bruises and injuries at the hospital there, but got scared.
“I thought if I would go there, they would be people like that there, too,” he said, laughing nervously.
The other gay man who spoke to the media said that his ordeal began when police arrested him in a crowded place, because his number was found in the phone of another gay man arrested earlier.
The man, in his 30s, said that when the abusers lost interest in one person, the torture would stop. He was eventually freed, and like Anzor, fled Chechnya and sought shelter through LGBT activists in Moscow.
Human rights groups have previously documented torture and extrajudicial killings perpetrated by Kadyrov’s security forces against opponents and Salafi Muslims. Lokshina said the methods used against gay men echo these abuses — it’s “their standard toolbox,” she said.
Putin last month met with Kadyrov in the Kremlin and the Chechen leader dismissed the reports.”The so-called good people write that in our republic — I’m even ashamed to say it — people get arrested and killed,” he said. Putin apparently didn’t press him further.
“I’m in absolute shock. We have never seen anything like this,” said Tatyana Vinnichenko, head of the Russian LGBT Network, which is aiding about 40 gay men who have fled Chechnya in recent weeks.
Vinnichenko’s phones ring every few minutes as she coordinates efforts with other activists on hospital treatment, plane tickets and housing arrangements. Two of the men have already left Russia for another country which is visa-free for Russians, and two more have just received visas and should be leaving for Europe soon.
LGBTQ activists have been meeting with foreign diplomats, pleading that granting a visa to gay survivors of torture could be a matter of saving their lives.Vinnichenko said, with dismay, that the U.S. Embassy in Moscow has been “unwilling to engage in a dialogue on visas for the torture victims.”
In Washington, the U.S. State Department told the AP and the media outlets that it was “unable to discuss individual cases” since visa records are confidential but added that it “categorically condemns the persecution of individuals based on their sexual orientation.”
After he was released, Anzor stayed in Chechnya to tend to his ailing mother, but eventually felt compelled to leave.
“My friends, people I have socialized with were all rounded up. If they caught me again, I know for sure I would not have made it out of there alive,” he said.
He told his family he was going away on business when he left for Moscow in early March and he hasn’t been back since. He clings to the hope that he will be able to go home to see his mother once again — and scoffs at the Kremlin meeting between Kadyrov and Putin.
“I think Putin knows about it, he knows it even better than me — he is the president of Russia after all,” he says. “I don’t know why he allows all of this to happen.”
Last summer we rose up to commemorate what happened at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Let’s speak out now before we have to commemorate LGBT+ genocide on our doorstep. If we have to do that, we have all failed.