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Chechnya protests
via Twitter (Dave Frenkel)

LGBT activists arrested for protesting Chechnya horror

A demonstration in St Petersburg saw around 20 people detained by Russian police

Police in Russia have arrested over 20 activists in St Petersburg, who turned out at the city’s May Day parade to challenge the persecution of gay men in Chechnya.

Reports say that groups of people doused themselves in fake blood and carried Chechen flags with rainbows. Other LGBT activists had placards that demanded Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechen republic leader, be taken to the International Court of Justice in The Hague to face trial. Demonstrations saw protesters disrupt traffic and marching by playing dead.

A protester in St Petersburg told Euronews: “Authorities in Chechnya deny these people help, they even deny they exist and deny the problem exists, and we are against it.”

As Novaya Gazeta reported in the disturbing story they originally broke, over 100 gay men have been abducted and detained in ‘concentration camp’-like prisons by Chechen authorities. It’s thought that violent beatings, instances of torture and murder have taken place at the former military headquarters. Four men are suspected murdered. It is believed the crackdown was sparked after GayRussia, a Moscow-based LGBT rights group, applied to hold pride parades in the Caucasus region.

Elena Milashina, a journalist from Novaya Gazeta who first reported on Chechnya, spoke to Dazed recently about how she had been forced into hiding since revealing the disturbing goings on. “The situation is far from resolved,” she told Dazed. “Detention, torture and murders continue. We have only managed to put this tragedy under a spotlight, not stop it.”

Kadyrov and the government previously denied the allegations, claiming: “you cannot detain and persecute people who simply do not exist in the republic”, refuting even the claim that LGBT people live there. Putin’s spokesperson stood by the Chechen government’s denial.

Maria Zakharova, from the Russian Foreign Ministry, told Yahoo News that the country was investigating the claims, but remained vague on actual details of how they were challenging any instances of abuse by authorities.

Igor Kochetkov, another activist at the March, told Reuters that he was in a group of ten protesters taken to the St Petersburg police station yesterday (May 1), with another group detained in another place. 

Speaking from the location he was being detained, he said: “I was waving a rainbow flag (representing gay rights), and was shouting ‘Kadyrov should go to the Hague’.”

Alexei Nazarov also told Reuters of the difficulties faced by LGBT people in the region. “It is hard for them to say ‘Hello I am Chechen and I am persecuted in Chechnya’ because they have relatives there. Unfortunately there is pressure not only on gay people but also on their families. And it is very dangerous.”

Last week, claims brought to parliament in the UK by Alan Duncan, minister of foreign affairs, detailed sources that say Kadyrov planned for the ‘elimination’ of the LGBT community there by May 26. 

“Human rights groups report that these anti-gay campaigns and killings are orchestrated by the head of the Chechen republic, Ramzan Kadyrov,” he said. “He has carried out other violent campaigns in the past, and this time he is directing his efforts at the LGBT community. Sources have said that he wants the community eliminated by the start of Ramadan. Such comments, attitudes and actions are absolutely contemptible.”

Human Rights First released a video of personal accounts from survivors of the brutal regime in Chechnya. Some of the men “returned to their families barely alive from beatings,” said Tanya Lokshina, the Russia program director for Human Rights Watch.