AD, a gay man born and raised in the semi-autonomous Russian Republic of Chechnya, worked as a hairdresser in the highly conservative Muslim-majority region. He only told a close circle of trusted loved ones about his sexual orientation, but nevertheless, in March 2017, members of Chechnya’s militarized police force came to his job. They took his passport and phone, handcuffed him and threw him in a van — all in broad daylight and plain view of others. He assumed it’d be his last day alive, but this Chechen refugee is now sharing his story through the Human Rights Campaign in commemoration of World Refugee Day, which is today.
The police drove AD to an abandoned warehouse where other suspected drug dealers, violent criminals and gay and bisexual men were being held without food or beds. In an adjoining room, the police tortured these men using a combination of beatings and electrocution, refusing to touch the men because of their sexual orientation. AD says he heard men screaming throughout the night.
“For Chechens, being gay is the worst thing,” says the Chechen refugee. “It is worse than a crime. It is simply unacceptable. They beat us because we are gay. They believe we are supposed to die and that we shouldn’t be allowed to live. People like us shouldn’t exist.”
AD says that some of the men in the warehouse were released to face further torture, humiliation and murder at the hands of their families. Although the officers tortured AD for several days, to this day he has no idea why he was released just a few days later.
He immediately fled to Moscow and St. Petersburg, where he stayed in hiding with friends until eventually leaving the country with the help of the Rainbow Railroad, a Toronto-based organization that has helped queer people flee the ongoing anti-LGBTQ violence. In June 2017, he began living in Canada and is currently studying English to become a hairdresser in the country.
As horrible as AD’s story is, it’s less horrific than other accounts we’ve heard, including one Chechen refugee who was forced to watch as his friend was beaten on camera and a trans Chechen woman who was stalked and stabbed on the street after she fled to Moscow.
Chechnya’s continued campaign of kidnapping, torturing and killing LGBTQ people is well into its second year. Russia and Chechnya have both denied the existence of the campaign. The Trump Administration has refused visas to LGBTQ refugees fleeing violence there.