It started as whispers—men were disappearing off the streets in Chechnya— followed by claims from human rights campaigners that men suspected of being homosexual were being tortured and held in camps. The independent, Moscow-based newspaper Novaya Gazetta, confirmed these whispers with an in-depth investigation on April 1st.
The paper cited the Interior Ministry in the Caucasus Republic, local activists, and law enforcement sources in their confirmation that around 100 men, aged between 16 and 50, had been detained on suspicion of non-traditional sexual orientations. These detentions were based solely on speculation, because being openly gay is practically a death sentence in Russia’s North Caucasus region. According to Novaya Gazetta, "the command was given for a ‘prophylactic sweep’ and it went as far as real murders.” Abuses at the camps where these men are being held allegedly include being regularly beaten, having their hands electrocuted, and being forced to sit on bottles.
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov’s spokesperson, Alvi Karimov, denied the claims on the basis that gay people "just don’t exist in the Republic." He went on to elaborate, saying, “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.”
Ramzan Kadyrov enjoys an unprecedented level of autonomy in his rule of Chechnya and has upped the stakes for LGBTQ members living in the Republic; however, hostility to the LGBTQ community in Russia is not singular to Chechnya. The homophobic tone is such that the Russian Orthodox Patriarch has compared gay marriage to Nazi Laws and Apartheid, saying same-sex marriage will bring about the end of life in the universe. The 2013 ruling "For the Purpose of Protecting Children from Information Advocating for a Denial of Traditional Family Values," also known as the gay propaganda law, made it illegal to present homosexuality as normative to children and demonstrated general reverting to Soviet-era laws on homosexuality. This law has been applied with increased vigor in the last few months with the government banning children from watching everything from Beauty and the Beast to The Power Rangers.
ILGA_Europe, the European section of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association rates Russia 49th out of the 49 European nations it compares in terms of treatment of LGBTQ individuals. Because there are no centralized protections, local regions create regional anti-LGBTQ laws such as gay-free zones. Kadyrov's move has been the first physical targeting of LGBTQ people in Russia and should be read as a major wake-up call about the level of human rights violations happening within the borders of one of Donald Trump's favorite countries.
Image via Wikimedia Commons
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