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These testimonies from gay, imprisoned Chechens are horrific

“They beat my chest and my face with their feet, and they hit my head against the floor. One of them said: ‘Do not beat him until the shock stage, at that point he will stop feeling pain. We don’t need that’”

Russian LGBT Network has today released today the report into the mass abductions and murder of gay men in Chechnya. According to their investigation based on 33 testimonies received from survivors, they suspect several dozens of victims were either tortured to death or murdered. They also believe detentions are still continuing, even though Chechen authorities became a lot more careful after international public pressure.

According to the report, supported by Elena Milashina, the journalist who originally broke the story, the perpetrators were identified as employees of the Department of Internal Affairs, which is a part of the General Division of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation. The victims also testify against the local division of the union “Rosgvardia” – the internal military force of the Russian government – local police officers, and military divisions.

Similarly to the report of Human Rights Watch, most of the testimonies in this investigation confirm that the spokesperson of the Parliament of the Chechen Republic, Magomed Daudov (also known as “the Lord”) participated in torture. But not alone. Additionally, almost all victims indicate that Aiub Kataev, the head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation in Argun (the town where secret prisons were reportedly located) as well as Abuzaid Vismuradov, the head of the Special Division of First Responders and also known as “the Patriot, all took park in “executing this crime against humanity”.

An unidentified victim testifies in the report: “One day, all my relatives were informed about the fact that I was detained. “The Lord” came to us, the chairman of the parliament — Magomed Daudov. We were all set down before the Lord. The Lord approached us, took pictures on his phone, and asked if each of us was gay. We had to answer “yes”. This all happened in front of our relatives. He talked to our relatives, saying that we brought disgrace to the nation and to our families. He told them that if they honour the traditions, they must kill us. And that if they did everything, they would not be punished for it.”

Human rights defenders believe that there were three waves of persecution of LGBT people: the first started in December of 2016 and went on until February of 2017. The second wave of detentions occurred in March 2017 and went on through to May 2017, the Holy Month of 3 Ramadan. Finally, the third started once Ramadan had ended and continues until today. Each wave, bar the ongoing third, lasted for about a month.

“I heard the following: “Are you a faggot? If you are, I’ll shoot you right here” – gay Chechen victim

Another victim said: “There was a police raid. They stopped the car we were in to find drugs. They took our company to the police station to question us. I had bracelets on my wrist... and also a leather bag, which a “straight” man probably wouldn’t wear, full of personal belongings for hygiene – a moist towelette and a manicure set. So, they saw this stuff, and I heard the following: “Are you a faggot? If you are, I’ll shoot you right here.” That’s what the Head of the District Department of Domestic Affairs (ROVD) in Argun told me. It was sufficient to imprison me.”

Survivors reported a ‘snowball effect’: they knew they were detained because someone had previously said their name. The pool of victims grew as more names were given away.

“They threw me to the floor and beat me,” says another victim. “They beat my chest and my face with their feet, and they hit my head against the floor. One of them said: “Do not beat him until the shock stage, at that point he will stop feeling pain. We don’t need that.” They addressed me with female pronouns and demanded that I tell them the names of other gay people I knew. They threatened to kill me if I didn’t.”

While in prison, as findings show, the detainees who were there for drug offences or in relation to terrorism charges were treated better, than those brought in for ‘homosexual relations’. This meant better access to nutrition and deliveries from their relatives and access to bunk beds. Gay detainees were forced to sleep only for three hours and on the concrete floor with no access to bathrooms. “Most of the general detainees used their privilege to harass and torture the gay people, but some were more sympathetic and even shared their food with them,” says the report.

“We were forced to lie on the floor with our bottoms up, and each person in the cell would hit us with a pipe three times,” says another victim. “As the week went by, there were already 18 LGBT people being detained and tortured. The youngest was around 17-years-old, and the oldest about 47. We were not allowed to wash. Some detainees developed open-cut wounds, and the cell smelled like rotten meat.”

There was also a previously unreported ransom element. As the LGBT Network confirms, families were asked to pay a ransom if they wanted their relative to be freed. The sum was mandatory and depended on the person detained. It could go up to 1 million Rub (£12,600) per person. The authorities also demanded money from the families in exchange for not disclosing the real reason why the person in question was detained, but often did not keep their word.

“We were forced to lie on the floor with our bottoms up, and each person in the cell would hit us with a pipe three times” – gay Chechen victim

According to testimonies, authorities then guaranteed to families that “if the family decided to kill the gay/bisexual relative (to wash the shame away with blood), they would not be prosecuted for this crime”. As survivors say, the authorities stated that they could “take them to the forest, accuse them of terrorist sentiments, and kill them, but it would be better if the parents took care of their children.” This led to a number of honour killings organized by victims’ families. The LGBT Network could not identify a definite number of such murders.

The report published this based on evidence from witnesses: “X – a young man who was caught by militants in March. Was detained in Argun. His father and uncle came to him. The perpetrators showed them the recordings which exposed him as a homosexual. The relatives replied that they would punish the victim themselves. He was taken to the woods and buried there without a funeral”.

Interestingly, while testifying the victims did not blame their relatives – the parents, brothers, and others who threatened them with death.

To date 64 people have been relocated by the LGBT Network to safe housing units located in central parts of Russia. 30 people were moved outside of Russia. However, the majority remain in Chechnya, unable to leave due to continuous pressure and monitoring from the state. 

In April, after international public pressure and 500,000 people on demanded an official investigation, Russia had launched a preliminary one. However, the investigative group that was assigned to carry it out reportedly faced multiple obstacles, blocked by the Chechen authorities. Later, Russian officials said that the investigative group did not find any evidence that human rights violations took place in the Republic, because there was no personal information of the people who were persecuted.

Tatiana Moskalkova, the Human Rights Ombudsperson in Russia, publicly offered state protection for the victims who would testify in front of the court. However, as LGBT Network states, the state protection can only be issued to those who are involved in the official criminal proceedings: “As no official criminal investigation had started, no victim can apply for state protection, and therefore no one can be ensured safety”.

Watch a film below based on the testimony of a gay Chechen man.