Chechnya continues to persecute gay men
While the world’s attention may have drifted on to other subjects, new reporting from the Associated Press news service has served as a timely reminder that things haven’t been getting better for LGBTQ people in Chechnya – things have clearly been getting worse.
In what appears to be a new purge, Russian LGBTQ activists have told AP that Chechen authorities have detained 40 people and two people have been killed.
AP reports that Alvi Karimov, a spokesman for Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, has said that the latest reports are “complete lies and don’t have an ounce of truth in them.” Karimov insisted that no one has been detained in Chechnya on suspicion of being gay.
Reports of systematic persecution of LGBTQ people in Chechnya first emerged in 2017. While the details of the atrocities have slipped from the headlines of the world’s media, monitoring by the Russian LGBT Network suggests that attacks against gay men in Chechnya have continuing throughout this entire period.
What’s clear is that the violence against LGBTQ people in Chechnya isn’t simply government authorities inflicting violence against its citizens. It’s also clear that even if they leave the country, LGBTQ people are still not safe.
Monitoring by the Russian LGBT Network has brought to light the attempted abduction of Zelimkhan Akhmadov – a gay man from Chechnya who was living in St Petersburg in Russia. Akhmadov was attacked while he was in St Petersburg. The attack led by his family, who were attempting to force him to return to Chechnya. Zelimkhan Akhmadov had been in hiding for almost a year. There had already been previous attempts to abduct him and force him to return to Chechnya because his family suspected that he was gay.
According to the Russian LGBT Network, on 13 July 2018, five people attacked Akhmadov near his home in St Petersburg, forcing him into a car. Friends of Akhmadov contacted police. The registration details of the car had been recorded by the security of the residential complex where Akhmadov lived - it was standard procedure for them to record the details of all vehicles entering and exiting the complex. The registration details of the car led police to where Akhmadov was being held by his father.
The police took Zelimkhan Akhmadov and his father into custody. Akhmadov senior threatened Zelimkhan, stating that he was the shame of the whole family, and that because of him their entire extended family was subject to a death threat. Zelimkhan was freed by the Russian police, and Akhmadov senior was prosecuted for abduction.
While we haven’t been able to independently verify the details of this report, Neil Durkin of Amnesty International UK has confirmed that the report is reliable.
“In our view, it’s a clear demonstration of how there’s no safe ‘internal flight’ for people from Chechnya…” said Durkin. “If his relatives succeeded in getting him back home, we think there’s a real risk he could be murdered in an ‘honour’ killing.”
“The Russian LGBT Network and Novaya Gazeta reported that some of the people killed last year in the ‘gay purge’ were killed by their own families…” added Durkin. “Remember the story regarding popular Chechen singer called Zelimkhan Bakhaev, who ‘disappeared’ when he came to Chechnya for a family event. In a press conference, Chechnya’s leader Ramzan Kadyrov mentioned this case and hinted that Zelimkhan was ‘dealt with’ by his own cousins.”
Tanya Lokshina – Associate Director for Europe and Central Asia for Human Rights Watch – also confirms that the Chechen Republic remains a dangerous place for LGBTQ people.
“We have seen individual cases of persecutions of LGBTQ people in Chechnya, documented threats of honour killings against LGBTQ males and females, an enforced disappearance of a presumed gay man – he went missing last August following on his abduction-style detention by security officials in Grozny, and a protracted incommunicado detention of a suspected lesbian this year…” detailed Lokshina. “LGBT people in Chechnya remain extremely vulnerable, coming out of the closet would be simply suicidal, and being outed puts one at risk of persecutions and honour killing.”
Reports of systematic persecution of gay men began to emerge from Chechnya in April 2017.
Citing sources from within the Chechen special services, Russian-language newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported that since February of that year, over 100 men had allegedly been detained and tortured, and that at least three men had been killed as part of the crackdown.
As international concern grew, Alvi Karimov, spokesman for Ramzan Kadyrov – the Head of the Chechen Republic - not only denied that there was any persecution, but also denied the existence of any gay men in Chechnya. The Guardian reported that in his comments, Karimov suggested that gay men in Chechnya would be killed by their own families.
“You cannot detain and persecute people who simply do not exist in the republic…” said Karimov. “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.”
Chechnya is a predominantly Muslim, ultra-conservative society in which homophobia is widespread and homosexuality is taboo. Reporting by The Guardian confirmed that Chechnya is a country where having a gay relative is seen as a stain on the entire extended family.
Authorities used the phone contacts of gay men who had been detained to identify other men who were suspected of being gay. These men were then subsequently targeted for arrest. Torture was used on the men who had been detained in order to force them to reveal the names of other gay men.
Emma Cassidy of ILGA Europe confirms that the things are not getting better.
“The situation in Chechnya remains very precarious for the LGBTQ community…” said Cassidy. “Men perceived as gay or bisexual who were detained, their friends and family, other members of the community, media, and legal advisers are all still at risk, so connecting journalists with those directly affected is unsafe and not possible.”
“The numbers I can share are stark…” added Cassidy. “The Russian LGBT Network has estimated that at least 300 people have been affected and around 160 individuals applied to the Network for direct assistance. All of this is happening against a backdrop of ongoing impunity . In May 2018, acting Justice Minister of the Russian Federation Alexander Konovalov told the UN Human Rights Council that - ’The investigations that we carried out … did not confirm evidence of rights’ violations, nor were we even able to find representatives of the LGBT community in Chechnya.'”