Vladimir Putin sits across from Ramzan Kadyrov, president of the Chechen Republic. (Wikimedia Commons)
Earlier this month, the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta published a startling report: that police in Chechnya had detained over 100 gay men and killed three in a state-sponsored anti-gay campaign. Now, human rights groups and the U.S. State Department are urging for a full investigation into the potential detentions and killings.
The newspaper’s report, by an author regarded as a leading authority on Chechnya, claimed that more than 100 people had been detained and three men killed in the roundup. It claimed that among those detained were well-known local television personalities and religious figures.
Alvi Karimov, spokesperson for Chechnya’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, described the report as “absolute lies and disinformation”, basing his denial on the claim that there were no gay people in Chechnya. “You cannot detain and persecute people who simply do not exist in the republic,” he told Interfax news agency.
“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.”
A spokesman for the region’s interior ministry told the Russian newspaper RBC that the report was “an April fool’s joke”.
However, Ekaterina Sokirianskaia, Russia project director for the International Crisis Group, told the Guardian she had been receiving worrying information about the issue from various sources over the past 10 days. “I have heard about it happening in Grozny [the Chechen capital], outside Grozny, and among people of very different ages and professions,” she said.
Other human rights groups have received similar information. The Russian LGBT Network shared hotline messages received between March 29 and April 2, stemming from anonymous informants who were detained and harmed by Chechen authorities.
One anonymous informant, the network states,
was detained by some security officials on suspicion of homosexuality. In order to get the confession, they beat him with a hose and tortured with electricity. He reported that about 30 people were locked in the same room together with him. According to him, the security officials themselves stated that the order came from the leaders of the Republic. The detained were forced to share the contacts of other gay men. The more the person informed, the longer he was detained.
Human Rights Watch has received similarly disturbing reports, according to an April 4 press release:
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. …
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.
Amnesty International UK and Amnesty International USA have called for action.
“Hundreds of men suspected of being gay are being abducted, tortured and even killed in the southern Russian republic of Chechnya,” Amnesty International UK states. “The Chechen government won’t admit that gay men even exist in Chechnya, let alone that they ordered what the police call ‘preventive mopping up’ of people they deem undesirable.”
The U.S. State Department also released a statement calling for an investigation into the reports.
“We urge the Russian government to conduct an independent and credible investigation into the alleged killings and mass arrests, and hold the perpetrators responsible,” a State Department official said in a statement given to BuzzFeed News.
“We were likewise deeply disturbed by local authorities statements that apparently condone and even incite violence against LGBTI persons,” the statement continued. “We are very concerned by the widespread discrimination and violence against LGBTI persons in Russia or any society. We call on the Russian government to protect all people from discrimination and violence, and allow the free exercise of the freedoms of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and religion or belief.”
The reports are gaining attention just as Rex Tillerson, the U.S. Secretary of State, visits Moscow. Human rights organizations have called on Tillerson to discuss allegations of LGBT abuses in Chechnya with Russian officials during his visit.
“He rules the republic of Chechnya with brute force and enjoys the indulgence of President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin,” the Washington Post Editorial Board wrote in an April 9 op-ed. “The roundup is another example of Mr. Kadyrov’s depravity…Mr. Putin, who so often insists that Russia be treated respectfully in the world, should display some backbone in response to the latest reported atrocity, facing down Mr. Kadyrov, releasing the terrified gay detainees and investigating how such frightful intimidation was allowed to happen.”
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