Photo: Schyler, via Wikimedia.
Authorities in Chechnya have begun accusing men suspected of being gay or bisexual of being terrorists affiliated with ISIS, in order to prevent them from fleeing the Russian Federation and justify their arrest, torture, and possible killing.
According to Crime Russia, security forces will visit the relatives of men suspected of being gay or bisexual and ask their family members to write statements saying the men have departed to Syria. If they say the men, most of whom are Muslim, have been recruited and left for Syria, then the government can exert undue influence over the family, who are negatively marked by the affiliation with the Islamic State and will do almost anything to “redeem” their family honor.
Chechen authorities then announce they are searching for the men by claiming they are terrorists, in order to round them up for questioning. So far, there have been three waves of mass arrests, the first from December 2016 to February 2017, during which at least 27 detainees were shot to death. The second wave occurred from March 2017 until May 2017, just prior to Ramadan, and the third wave is currently underway, and has been since June.
In April, the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported on the mass arrests and torture of men suspected of being gay inside secret prisons in the semi-autonomous Russian republic. But Chechen and Russian officials have consistently denied these allegations. Tatyana Moskalkova, the Human Rights Ombudswoman in the Russian Federation, has stated that she has not received a single complaint alleging that members of the LGBTQ community have been mistreated.
Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechen leader, has gone even further, saying that LGBTQ people do not exist in the republic, so there can be no “purge” of them going on. His denials persist, despite reports that he publicly declared that he wanted all LGTBQ people in the country to be eliminated by the start of Ramadan, on May 26.
The Russian LGBT Network, which has been helping some of the victims flee persecution in Chechnya, recently released a 31-page report outlining the impetus behind the purge and the details of the torture to which detainees have been subjected.
Among other factors, the report cites the degree to which Russia has allowed Chechnya to operate autonomously in order to align itself with Chechen leaders against radical Islamic separatist groups. Unfortunately, that means that Russia has taken a “hands off” approach when Chechen authorities have persecuted people they believe are violating “Chechen values,” including drug users, suspected terrorists, and LGBTQ people.
According to the report, Chechen authorities have used the Stalinist method of “shared responsibility” — the idea that families are held responsible if their loved ones are considered “public enemies”– to force families to turn in their relatives or to participate in “honor killings” in order to help rid Chechen society of these social pariahs.
Once arrested — either for “terrorism” or on other trumped-up charges — the detainees are subjected to electrocution, beatings, starvation, dehydration, isolation, forced nudity, and verbal abuse in order to force them to reveal other suspected LGBTQ people. LGBTQ detainees are not allowed to sleep on beds, use the restroom, or bathe, and are often crowded into cells with up to 18 men in one cell. The men are beaten with tubes, and one man was even videotaped having a plastic pipe inserted into his anus, with barbed wire slipped into the pipe and then pulled forcibly out of the rectum.
The torture sessions are often recorded and sometimes shown to detainees in order to force them to name other suspected homosexuals. Women suspected of being lesbians are subjected to corrective rape, physical violence, and honor killings, and some have been tortured as well. One woman was reportedly poisoned by her family after trying to flee Chechnya multiple times, with her cause of death listed as “organ rejection, in consequence of complications after having the flu.”
When the detainees are released, Chechen authorities meet with families and encourage them to find a “proper solution” to get rid of the “sick” members of their family, noting that if they kill their gay relative, the family will avoid further persecution and scrutiny. Families must pay a ransom to get their relatives released, and authorities warn that the family will be subjected to random check-ins by Chechen authorities. If the LGBTQ people attempt to flee, the family will be subjected to violence or worse at the hands of police and military.
Because of this, several families have killed their relatives. However, the Russian LGBT Network also notes that some families falsified an honor killing and even held fake funerals to cover up that their relatives had fled Chechnya.
Most world leaders have condemned reports of the anti-LGBTQ persecution in Chechnya, and have called on Russian authorities to investigate and put a stop to the ongoing purge. However, many believe the Kremlin is deliberately dragging its feet. Moskalkova, as the human rights ombudsman, has said she is willing to assist with any Russian investigation, but her office has no legal authority to provide protection to any former detainee who issues a formal complaint against Chechen police or military members. Thus, her office has received no formal complaints — and it is unlikely it ever will.