Earlier this month, Belgium revealed that it gave five humanitarian visas to gay men fleeing the violent anti-gay Chechnya purge. This was surprising considering that any mention of the semi-autonomous Russian region had pretty much vanished from gay websites after nearly a year of non-stop reports of an ongoing campaign of kidnapping, torture and murder against the region’s LGBTQ citizens.
So we reached out to the Russia LGBT Network, a local organization that has helped approximately 119 gay and bi men escape the Chechnya purge, which has confirmed to us that the campaign has never stopped nor let up.
A spokesperson for the Russian LGBT Network (who must remain anonymous for safety reasons) tells Hornet:
We know for sure that persecution of LGBT people in Chechnya did not stop; we continue to receive information that people are still kidnapped, detained and tortured. We still receive requests for help and evacuating people from the region. This is how we know that purges are on the way; we receive this information from people who are in Chechnya.
Moreover, the spokesperson adds, the organization now has information that women are being illegally detained in this Chechnya purge alongside men, facing the same torture and sexual violence the men face. Though some women had been rounded up in the purge’s first waves, it was previously more common for them to be outed to their families and then either imprisoned, murdered or subjected to “homophobic rape” at home.
“We do not know how many people were killed and how many people suffered within this campaign against LGBT people in Chechnya,” the spokesperson continues. “We can say for sure that more than 200 people contacted us, that we evacuated 119 people and that 98 persons have already left Russia.”
To uncover the total numbers of people affected by the Chechnya purge, the spokesperson says, the Russian federal authorities would need to conduct a transparent investigation, but it refuses to do so. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov agents obstructed investigations into the purge, and Russian feds followed suit by shrugging off all reports as insubstantial.
The ongoing Chechnya purge has largely disappeared from the headlines, likely due to a decline in public interest, as is sometimes the case in highly publicized humanitarian crises. Media consumers grow numb to the continuing reports, feeling they are powerless to help, and the attention stops.
Most people in Russia haven’t even heard about the horrors taking place in Chechnya, according to the Russian LGBT Network spokesperson: “Almost all federal mass media in Russia is state-controlled, and there isn’t that much information about this persecution. Even those who’ve heard about it don’t want to believe, because to believe means to accept that such things can happen to anyone in Russia, that the authorities don’t protect people.”
Still, the Russia LGBTQ Network urges everyone to keep people aware by doing these three things: First, to share the image below on social media and demanding #100ForJustice to finally investigate the 100 queer people killed in the purge. Second, to sign an online petition demanding the Russian government seriously investigate. And third, to make a donation to the LGBT Russia Network to assist the organization in helping evacuate LGBTQ Chechens targeted by the ongoing violence.
Although the Russia LGBT Network says it has been able to help 119 queer Chechens evacuate, thanks to the support of its numerous partners and supporters all over the world, the spokesperson wonders, “How many people weren’t able to contact us? How many people were too scared and didn’t trust anyone? How many people were killed? We still do not know.”
In response to the ongoing Chechnya purge, Hornet has sent out a number of broadcast messages to men in the area, providing information about the Russian LGBT Network, efforts around evacuation and how to report human rights violations. Partnering with advocacy group Alturi, Hornet helped raise funds for the Russian LGBT Network as well.
We also drafted a Know Your Rights fact sheet in both Russian and Chechen, which was then distributed to men in the region. It provides helpful travel tips when crossing international borders, statistics (and a map) of criminalized homosexuality around the world and how someone can report human rights violations.
“Unfortunately, the situation in Russia affects the entire region,” the Russia LGBT Network spokesperson tells us. “So what is going on in Chechnya is not about Chechnya or even Russia — it is much more global.”