On 01 April 2017, Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported that gay men in Chechnya were being tortured and even killed by the authorities. This article provides a brief overview of this persecution of the LGBT community in Chechnya and what has happened in the weeks following this report.
“You cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic”
On 01 April 2017, independent Russian newspaper ‘Novaya Gazeta’ first published a report alleging that a campaign of torture, abuse and even murder was being perpetrated by the authorities in Chechnya against the LGBT community. It was reported that around 100 gay men had been detained and tortured by the authorities, with three people murdered. The authorities dismissed the report as an April Fools’ Joke, with Chechnya’s leader Ramzan Kadyrov referring to the allegations as ‘provocations’.
In dismissing the report, Kadyrov’s spokesman claimed that such abuse was impossible as “You cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic”. In a chilling statement, Kadyrov’s spokesman went on to say that:
“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.”
“They called us animals”
In the weeks that followed, the international community was horrified to learn of the torture and abuse which was being committed by the authorities against these victims. In a recent article, The Guardian gathered testimony from some of the victims of this torture. Survivors described being tortured with metal clamps and beaten with metal or wooden rods. They also described how they were subjected to unbearable electric shocks, all because of their sexual orientation.
Yet, even if the victims survive this torture by the authorities, they are often unable to seek refuge or protection from their own families who disown them or worse. In this conservative society, homophobia is rife and homosexual relationships are regarded as ‘non-traditional’ with the victims regarded as having caused dishonour to their family. Recent reports allege that the Chechen authorities are urging parents to kill their gay children before they do. A recent report describes how a seventeen year old child was pushed off a ninth floor balcony to his death by his uncle after he was discovered to be gay. At risk from both the authorities and their own families the LGBT community in Chechnya have nowhere to turn for protection.
A Growing Crackdown on “Non-traditional Relationships” in the New East
This persecution of gay men in Chechnya forms part of a growing crackdown on LGBT rights in several countries in the New East where such relationships are often described as ‘non-traditional’ and, implicitly, something strange and to be feared. For example, in 2010 Lithuania introduced the Law on the Protection of Minors, seeking to protect the ‘traditional’ concept of a family as that of a union between a man and a woman. However, earlier drafts had sought to proscribe the “propaganda of homosexuality and bisexuality” to minors.
In 2013, the Russian Federation introduced the so-called ‘gay propaganda law’ which renders the distribution of ‘propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships’ amongst minors punishable by fines. Meanwhile, in Belarus, a new law (due to come into force in July 2017) on the’ Protection of Children from Information Harmful to their Health and Development’ is feared to be another tool designed to crack down on LGBT rights. All of these laws have further ostracized the LGBT community in these societies. Moreover, the express purpose of these laws being the protection of minors has often meant that homosexuality has become increasingly equated with paedophilia by opponents to LGBT rights.
At a recent news conference in Sochi, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to investigate these allegations of persecution against gay men in Chechnya. With the international spotlight on Russia, Vladimir Putin has since ordered an investigation into these allegations. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has promised to cooperate with any investigation. Whilst this is a promising step, much depends on whether this investigation will in fact be ‘effective’ or is just an empty promise designed to silence the international community. However, considering Vladimir Putin’s own treatment of the LGBT community in Russia it is perhaps unwise to be too optimistic about any ‘investigation’ delivering any real justice to the victims of these atrocities. This is why the international community must continue to speak out to ensure that the rights of the LGBT community in Chechnya, and throughout the New East, are protected.
Human Rights Watch, Anti-LGBT Violence in Chechnya’ (04 April 2017): https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/04/04/anti-lgbt-violence-chechnya
The Independent, Chechen authorities ’round up’ more than 100 gay men (03 April 2017): http://www.independent.co.uk/news/chechnya-gay-men-detain-arrest-round-up-chechen-human-rights-watch-ramzan-kadyrov-a7664486.html
The Guardian, Chechens tell of prison beatings and electric shocks in anti-gay purge: ‘They called us animals’ (13 April 2017): https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/apr/13/they-called-us-animals-chechens-prison-beatings-electric-shocks-anti-gay-purge
The Independent,Chechen authorities tell parents: ‘Kill your gay sons or we will’, survivor claims (04 May 2017): http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/chechnya-parents-kill-gay-sons-russia-region-government-chechen-leader-ramzan-kadyrov-a7714591.html
Pink News, Gay teen in Chechnya pushed from 9th floor balcony after being outed (05 May 2017): http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2017/05/05/gay-teen-in-chechnya-pushed-from-9th-floor-balcony-after-being-outed/
The European Parliament’s Intergroup on LGBT Rights, Lithuation law on the ‘protection’ of minors enters the statute book (01 March 2010): http://www.lgbt-ep.eu/press-releases/lithuanian-law-enters-the-statute-book/
Human Rights First, Spread of Russian-Style Propaganda Laws (11 July 2016): http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/resource/spread-russian-style-propaganda-laws
The New York Times, Angela Merkel Presses Vladimir Putin on Treatment of Gays and Jehovah’s Witnesses (02 May 2017): https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/02/world/europe/merkel-putin-russia.html?_r=1
The Telegraph, Vladimir Putin backs investigation into reports of violent anti-gay crackdown in Chechnya (05 May 2017): http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/05/05/vladimir-putin-backs-investigation-reports-violent-anti-gay/
Radio Liberty/ Radio Free Europe, Chechnya’s Kadyrov Says He Will Cooperate With Kremlin Investigation Of Gay Abuse (06 May 2017): https://www.rferl.org/a/chechnya-kadyrov-says-will-cooperate-kremlin-investigation-gay-abuse-putin/28471125.html