Reports from the Russian region of Chechnya allege that gay men have been arrested and taken to concentration camp-like prisons.
Novaya Gazeta, an independent local newspaper, reports that initially around 100 men have been abducted and detained “in connection with their non-traditional sexual orientation, or suspicion of such”, as part of the growing campaign.
The publication, through speaking with survivors and witnesses, says that Argun, a Russian town, has a secret prison where men are subjected to torture and violent interrogations. Torture is said to include electric shocks and beatings, with some being held to ransom. The authorities running the camp, on what’s said to be an old military headquarters site, are allegedly trying to get detainees to give them names of more gay men to round up.
According to the Washington Post, around three are known to be dead, with other suspected murdered in ‘honour’-style killings. The New York Times says that Ekaterina Sokiryanskaya, the Russia project coordinator for the International Crisis Group, said she had been receiving reports of the camps.
Novaya Gazeta alleges that rounding up gay men for abduction began after a gay rights group based in Moscow, GayRussia.ru, started applying to demonstrate in provincial cities. Homophobic locals, in a “prophylactic sweep” in Chechnya then began their crusade. Their report also claims that closeted homosexual individuals were sought out by others posing as gay men on social media looking for dates.
Just in the last 24 hours: Western governments implicate Moscow in WMD use; Chechnya establishes concentration camps for homosexuals.— Michael Weiss (@michaeldweiss) April 10, 2017
As PinkNews reports, the Kremlin denied knowledge of the camps or abductions, and a Chechen government spokesperson refuted the horrific mounting allegations, stating, basically, that the region had no LGBT people to detain: “you can’t detain and harass someone who doesn’t exist in the republic”. Local eyewitnesses have claimed that the speaker for the Chechen parliament was one of some officials to actually visit the site.
“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,” Kadyrov spokesperson Alvi Karimov told Interfax in a chilling interview.
Russia has very strict anti-LGBT laws, relating to the circulation or ‘encouragement’ of homosexuality through ‘LGBT propaganda’. According to an Amnesty report, ‘honour killings’ are practiced in the North Caucasus, with reports of some taking place in the conservative Chechnya. The Human Rights Council related that the justice system in Chechnya would treat anyone who killed a gay family member “with understanding”.
Ramzan Kadyrov, the area's leader, is said to enjoy authority given to him by Vladimir Putin, as well as the ability to do as he pleases in the conservative region.
In a statement, activist Svetlana Zakharova of the Russian LGBT Network said: “Gay people have been detained and rounded up and we are working to evacuate people from the camps and some have now left the region.”
“Those who have escaped said they are detained in the same room and people are kept altogether, around 30 or 40,” she added. “They are tortured with electric currents and heavily beaten, sometimes to death.”
Tanya Lokshina, the Russia program director at Human Rights Watch wrote in an official statement: “For several weeks now, a brutal campaign against LGBT people has been sweeping through Chechnya. Law enforcement and security agency officials under control of the ruthless head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, have rounded up dozens of men on suspicion of being gay, torturing and humiliating the victims.”
Confirming the initial reports, she continued: “Some of the men have forcibly disappeared. Others were returned to their families barely alive from beatings. At least three men apparently have died since this brutal campaign began. These days, very few people in Chechnya dare speak to human rights monitors or journalists even anonymously because the climate of fear is overwhelming and people have been largely intimidated into silence. Filing an official complaint against local security officials is extremely dangerous, as retaliation by local authorities is practically inevitable.
“It is difficult to overstate just how vulnerable LGBT people are in Chechnya, where homophobia is intense and rampant. LGBT people are in danger not only of persecution by the authorities but also of falling victim to ‘honour killings’ by their own relatives for tarnishing family honour.”
Nothing from our PM about the disgraceful massacre of gay citizens in Chechnya. Maybe she'd care more if they dressed up as chocolate eggs.— Chris Ward (@christopherward) April 10, 2017
Amnesty International has launched a petition calling on authorities governing the southern Russian republic of Chechnya to cease the abduction, detainment, torture and murder of gay men.
“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,” Amnesty said on the site.
The Russian LGBTI network has set up a hotline to help anyone in the region looking for safety. Amnesty has warned gay men in the area to be weary of help offered online being used to track and detain them.
Sign the Amnesty petition to challenge the disturbing events of Chechnya here. If you are in the region and are feeling unsafe, call the LGBTI network on 88005557374. Keeping with Russian legislation, citizens can apply to the Investigative Committee to demand the information about the crime published in mass media is investigated: find out more here.
Follow Anna Cafolla on Twitter here @annacafolla