Chechnya’s Horrific ‘Gay Purge’: A 4-Year Timeline of Abduction, Torture and Murder
April 1, 2021, marks four years since the world at large was first made aware of Chechnya’s gay purge — atrocities committed against LGBTQ people within the Russian republic’s borders, a horrific, ongoing stratagem of abduction, detainment, torture and murder.
Gradually rebuked by Western governments over the years as first-hand accounts began to emerge, Chechnya’s gay purge has largely been ignored — if not supported through omission — by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his government.
Located in the North Causcasus region of Southwest Russia, this quasi-independent “country within a country” is a war-torn region that has long been plagued by extrajudicial violence and murder. Chechnya is ruled under a conservative Muslim ideology, controlled by the iron fist of its leader, Ramzan Kadyrov.
Kadyrov, who loves to both deny that LGBTQ people exist within Chechnya and also comment they should be wiped out of the region to keep Chechnya pure, professes a blind allegiance to Putin. In return, the Kremlin has funded Kadyrov’s police state and mostly turns a blind eye to human rights abuses, including Chechnya’s ongoing gay purge.
Chechnya is a place where being openly gay is simply unheard of. Many of those who are LGBTQ in Chechnya remain closeted for their entire lives; those who act on their sexuality are rightfully paranoid of police detention or worse. And if they’re not turned into local officials by a jilted lover or a hookup who was previously caught by police and is working to handover other names, they are in just as much danger at home. Chechen culture is one of “honor killings” — the family of a known LGBTQ person is practically expected to rid their community of such a stain.
Abhorrent extrajudicial actions against LGBTQ people did not first spring up in April of 2017; indeed, local authorities excelled at blackmailing the republic’s gay community for years prior. But as you’ll see, a spark was lit in late 2016, and Chechnya’s gay purge has burned like a fire ever since.
Before we get to the below comprehensive timeline of Chechnya’s gay purge, first a note on how people like you can help. While it’s discouraging that little more than direct intervention from the Russian government is likely to put an end to these atrocities, there are some actions you can take. First, donate to one of the organizations actively working to assist LGBTQ Chechens in escaping the region and securing asylum. These organizations include the Russian LGBT Network and the Canada-based Rainbow Railroad. You’ll see both organizations’ names pop up frequently below. Second, continue demanding that politicians apply sanctions and diplomatic pressure where it counts. And third, email the Russian Embassy in your country to voice your protest.
Here is a comprehensive timeline of Chechnya’s gay purge:
After weeks of verification, the Russian-language newspaper shares heart-wrenching news out of Russia’s North Caucasus: More than 100 people have been detained in Chechnya, all of whom are gay or suspected to be. Those detained range from teenagers to men who are 50+ and include two well-known television reporters. Novaya Gazeta‘s information has been confirmed with local LGBT activists in addition to multiple government organizations, including Chechnya’s Ministry of Internal Affairs. Human Rights Watch also confirmed the newspaper’s report.
Some of the detained were eventually released and able to flee Chechnya, while others were released only upon handing over info about other gay friends and acquaintances. Some are believed to be dead.
Videos like the one above, which includes threats to LGBT activists, were distributed on WhatsApp in Chechnya
A spokesman for Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov denies the report fully, calling it “absolute lies and disinformation.” Local authorities tell a news agency, “You cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic,” suggesting that Chechnya has no gay citizens, and that if it did, those citizens’ relatives would have executed them under honor killing customs.
The Russian LGBT Network immediately begins assisting gay Chechen citizens to flee the Russian republic.
In a mosque located in the city of Grozny, religious leaders meet and suggest a massacre of journalists for reporting on Chechnya’s gay purge. Later, 15,000 people meet in Chechnya’s main mosque and announce a jihad against the staff of Novaya Gazeta.
Elena Milashina, who wrote the initial article, flees her Moscow home to an undisclosed location, where she continues reporting on the atrocities taking place in Chechnya. (It should be noted that Milashina’s predecessor in covering Chechnya had been murdered by Chechen nationals for her reporting on the region.)
Amnesty International launches an “urgent action” campaign asking individuals to write to Russian authorities “urging them to carry out prompt, effective and thorough investigations into the reports of abductions and killings of men believed to be gay in Chechnya and to ensure that anyone found guilty or complicit in such crimes will be brought to justice in accordance with the laws of the Russian Federation.”
Other NGOs and nations follow suit. On April 5, 2017, a U.S. State Department spokesperson urges the Russian government to “conduct an independent and credible investigation into the alleged killings and mass arrests and hold the perpetrators responsible.” That same day, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) publishes a statement reiterating the rights of LGBTQ people. The European Parliament in Strasbourg also calls for an investigation, and in Germany several organizations plan demonstrations in solidarity with Chechen victims.
In Russia, the trade union of journalists demands a transparent investigation into the arrest and disappearance of the two journalists.
Statements of condemnation later come from British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson (April 13), former Vice President Joe Biden (April 14), Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland (April 15) and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley (April 17).
April 8, 2017: One of the Chechen TV reporter victims is erased
One of the victims of Chechnya’s gay purge, an aforementioned TV journalist, has all footage of his past reporting erased by the Chechen State TV and Radio Company he worked for — “as if he simply did not exist.”
April 13, 2017: Victims of Chechnya’s gay purge begin to tell their stories
It’s now believed that up to several hundred gay men have been rounded up, some killed, in Chechnya, and The Guardian publishes this story following interviews with gay men who claim they were tortured in secret detention facilities.
The men claim they were electrocuted and beaten with sticks and metal rods on a daily basis while detained. “Sometimes they were trying to get information from me; other times they were just amusing themselves,” says one man. From the Guardian article:
For Adam, it all started with a phone call from a gay friend.
“He called me, and in a very calm and normal voice suggested meeting. I’ve known him for a long time, so I didn’t suspect a thing,” said Adam. But when he arrived at the arranged meeting place, he realised it was a set up. There were six people waiting for him, some of them in uniform, and they shouted that they knew he was gay.
At first, Adam denied it, but when it became clear the men had read messages he had sent to others, he admitted he was indeed gay. He was put in the back of a van and taken to the detention facility, where the men were locked in a room and slept on concrete floors. “They woke us up at 5am and let us sleep at 1am. Different people would come in and take turns to beat us. Sometimes they brought in other prisoners, who were told we were gay and were also ordered to beat us.”
Some men were reportedly released to their families, who authorities encouraged to execute the gay family member.
April 14, 2017: Novaya Gazeta urges Russia to respond to jihad
The newspaper urges the Russian government to respond to calls for a jihad against journalists reporting on Chechnya’s gay purge, citing the April 3 meeting of 15,000 at the central mosque of Grozny.
April 14, 2017: A Chechen ‘secret prison’ is located by satellite
— Laura Weinstein N. (@LAURAWEINS) April 14, 2017
Laura Weinstein, president of the Colombian-based NGO Grupo Acción y Apoyo a Personas Trans tweets a satellite picture that reportedly shows one location where gay men are being held in Chechnya’s gay purge. “In this camp in Chechnya people are being tortured, locked up and exterminated for being gay and trans,” she writes.
April 16, 2017: Kadyrov doubles down, Putin plays dumb
Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov categorizes the international outcry over Chechnya’s gay purge as an attempt to “blacken our society, lifestyle, traditions and customs.” In an interview with a Russian state news agency, he doubles down on the notion that Chechnya has no gay men within its borders.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin tells reporters it has “no reliable information about any problems in this area [Chechnya].”
April 17, 2017: Money talks?
OutRight Action International urges three oil companies with large investments in Russian oil and gas — British Petroleum, ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell — to publicly condemn Chechnya’s gay purge. “This is one of the worst homophobic campaigns the world has ever seen,” says OutRight Action International Executive Director Jessica Stern. “If Russia will not listen to other governments or even the United Nations, it is time to see if we can get money to talk in a language that they will listen to.”
April 18, 2017: CNN publishes video interviews with Chechnya’s gay purge victims
As part of a special investigation, CNN releases interviews with multiple victims of Chechnya’s gay purge (their identities concealed), who discuss the form their torture took and the “death sentence” that has always resulted from being openly gay in the Southern Russian republic. Watch the video here:
April 19, 2017: Kadyrov meets with Putin
At a meeting with Putin, the Chechen president describes articles about Chechnya’s gay purge as “provocative” and insists claims that gay men are being detained are untrue.
Speaking to Gay Star News, a Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokesperson in the UK confirms that Ramzan Kadyrov, head of the Chechen Republic, has threatened to rid the area of homosexuality “by Ramadan,” which falls on May 26.
April 22, 2017: Protests take place around the world
On April 22, a protest organized by RUSA LGBT (Russian-Speaking American LGBT Association), Human Rights First and OutRight Action International takes place in New York City near the Russian Consulate. Protesters are told to bring pink flowers and protest signs.
Other cities see organized protests against Chechnya’s gay purge as well, including London (April 12), Amsterdam (April 19), Toronto (April 22) and Manchester (April 23).
April 24, 2017: At least 6 secret prisons uncovered in Chechnya
Novaya Gazeta reports there are six known secret prisons for gays in Chechnya, one of which is located in the town of Argun and another is in the village of Tsotsi-Yurt. (The locations of the four remaining prisons was not revealed.)
The newspaper also claims it has handed over personal data of 26 Chechen residents who have been illegally detained to Russia’s Investigative Committee. Some people on the list were “killed only on the basis of suspicion of homosexuality.”
Katie Couric sits down with Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova for Yahoo! News. Asked about Russia’s response to Chechnya’s gay purge, Zakharova grows incensed at the topic even being raised. “This is not my fault,” the Russian spokesperson proclaims at one point. Watch a two-minute clip from the video interview here.
— Protest SPb (@ProtestSPb) May 1, 2017
More than 20 activists protesting Chechnya’s gay purge are ripped from the streets of St. Petersburg by Russian police officers. The protesters march carrying both Chechen and LGBTQ flags covered in fake blood. Several arrests are made in conjunction with the protests, and photos show the detained activists crammed into close quarters in deplorable conditions.
The AP publishes a report in which they interviewed two gay men (one in his 30s, one in his 40s) in a safe house provided by LGBT activists.
“For 20-30 seconds they spin the handle, you feel the electricity, then you fall down, they stop it, and then immediately you come back to consciousness and you are ready again for a new discharge,” he said. “And it goes on five, six, seven times,” one man recounts about the electric shocks he endured. He claims he spent 10 days in custody with dozens of other men. He recalls that prisoners were forced to attach the clamps of electric wires to their own fingers and toes.
In this same interview with the AP, Tatyana Vinnichenko, head of the Russian LGBT Network, assisting around 40 gay men looking to flee Chechnya, says the U.S. Embassy in Moscow has been “unwilling to engage in a dialogue on visas for the torture victims.”
May 2, 2017: Angela Merkel publicly calls on Putin to step up
During a public press conference with Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel becomes the only world leader thus far to speak out amid the ongoing reports of Chechnya’s gay purge. She calls on Putin to “use his influence to guarantee the rights of minorities” after hearing “negative reports on the treatment of homosexuals, particularly in Chechnya.”
Following reports of a 17-year-old man thrown off a ninth floor balcony by his own uncle for being gay, Hornet announces the launch of its “Know Your Rights” campaign, an educational effort to help make gay men and travelers aware of their rights in different countries around the world. Done in conjunction with the United Nations, app users receive updates about anti-LGBTQ policies in countries with laws targeting the LGBTQ community.
As users travel across international borders, Hornet displays helpful tips to keep them safe. Some tips include disabling Touch ID on electronic devices and uninstalling apps that might reveal sexuality identity or personal information. The campaign also provides a map of countries that have criminalized homosexuality and resources on where and how to report human rights violations around the world.
May 9, 2017: The Russian LGBT Network Steps Up Evacuation Efforts
During an NPR interview, an unnamed representative of the Russian LGBT Network discusses the organization’s efforts to evacuate LGBT people from Chechnya. A hotline was set up allowing men to reach out and ask for help via email. To date, 40 men have been evacuated from Chechnya, typically to another part of Russia first, then out of the country.
In this same interview, the Russian LGBT Network representative castigates Russia for its lack of support for LGBT organizations and assistance. “We try to report to them, but they usually ignore us. And what we want from them right now is to have appropriate investigation of this situation,” she says.
During an sit-down with the Russian LGBT Network, Hornet learns two harrowing facts:
First, that Chechnya’s gay purge initiated earlier than previously known. Reports of the Chechen purge initially began at the end of February / beginning of March 2017, with preparations by Chechen officials beginning as early as December 2016.
And second, that women are being persecuted as well. Bisexual and lesbian women are being subjected to violence in Chechnya, though this violence is typically committed by family members rather than officials. Some women are being outed by officials to their families and then hurt in their own homes by relatives.
As 20 men are now believed to be dead as a result of Chechnya’s gay purge, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders can’t say whether U.S. President Donald Trump has even been briefed on the atrocities taking place in Chechnya.
Asked why there was no mention of Chechnya in a statement about Trump’s meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Sanders replied, “I cannot speak to every detail and I would have to refer you to the readout on the specifics of what I know was discussed.” And when asked if Trump had been briefed at all on Chechnya: “That is something I would have to get back to you on. I am not 100% sure.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Theresa May are presently the only two world leaders to speak against Chechnya’s months-long campaign of kidnapping, detainment and torture.
May 13, 2017: Russia Denies It All
One week after Russia promised to conduct an investigation into Chechnya’s gay purge, the Russian Embassy to Israel writes to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, “There are no victims of persecution, threats or violence” in the republic.
A letter from Press Attache Dmitry Alushkin states, “There are no victims of persecution, threats or violence. Neither law enforcement authorities or the Human Rights Council of the president of the Chechen Republic have received complaints on this matter. The Human Rights Council conducted an inquiry of its own and did not find even indirect evidence of such accusations.” The letter also claims Novaya Gazeta journalist Elena Milashina “has her own agenda … [with] no connection whatsoever to protecting the rights of gays.”
Despite the Russian government’s blatant attempt at gaslighting, the Russian LGBT Network and other organizations pledge to continue raising funds and helping LGBTQ Chechens escape amid ongoing reports of violence.
May 14, 2017: Artists and activists do their part
One of many artists and activists spreading information and bringing awareness to Chechnya’s gay purge, Brooklyn-based illustrator Paul Tuller sells a new T-shirt, with 100% of the profits going to the Russian LGBTQ Network.
The Russian LGBT Network accuses the United States of declining to give visas to gay Chechens fleeing their country’s months-long campaign of kidnapping, detainment and torture. In a statement e-mailed to Buzzfeed News, the Network says, “We were informed that the U.S. is not going to issue visas for people from Chechnya.”
Speaking to Buzzfeed News on background, a U.S. State Department spokesperson says they cannot comment on the individual cases of alleged visa denials because “visa records are confidential under U.S. law.”
The Russian LGBT Network has helped 40 Chechen men flee persecution; those men are hiding in different parts of Russia while they await international visas to escape into more accepting countries.
Three French LGBTQ groups — Stop Homophobia, Mousse and Comite Idaho France — file a complaint against Chechnya with the International Criminal Court, accusing the Russian republic of “a policy of genocide” towards gay people and blaming Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov and his officials for a “wave of persecution.”
The complaint also calls Kadyrov “the architect of a genocide” and “the organizer of torture camps with a desire to exterminate homosexuals.”
The Baltic News Service reports that the eastern European nation of Lithuania has granted visas to at least two men who fled Chechnya’s gay purge, timed with the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT).
May 17, 2017: Another protest in St Petersburg
More than 100 LGBTQ rights activists hold a demonstration in St. Petersburg to protest the atrocities in Chechnya. The protest ends peacefully with no arrests or major disturbances, even though such non-permitted demonstrations are illegal in Russia and run afoul of the nation’s so-called “gay propaganda” law.
Demonstrators also call on Western governments to grant asylum to gays fleeing Chechnya.
Novaya Gazeta publishes a report saying 26 people have now been murdered in “extrajudicial killings” as part of Chechnya’s gay purge, and goes on to accuse Chechen authorities of a systematic sabotage of Russia’s investigation efforts.
Among Novaya Gazeta‘s claims are that some Chechen police have outright refused to participate in the investigation. One of the suspected detainment sites, a former military barracks in Argun, has been buried up to its roof in construction debris, and prisoners who resided there have reportedly been relocated to a special police force training base 60 kilometers north in Terek. And Chechen officials have forced relatives of dead, missing or escaped gay men to fraudulently sign affidavits claiming the men left Chechnya to work elsewhere in Russia.
Novaya Gazeta also reports that some Chechen police officers have secretly helped investigators by passing along a list naming all of the apprehended detainees.
The international NGO Human Rights Watch releases a report confirming disturbing details about Chechnya’s months-long campaign of kidnapping, torture and murder of suspected LGBTQ people.
Among the facts confirmed: that torturers electrocute victims by clamping metal clothespins on their fingers, earlobes and toes, and by having prisoners hold onto horseshoe-shaped pieces of metal attached to a battery. Detainees are also stripped naked, made to sleep on a concrete floor during cold nights, are starved for weeks, are tortured until they pass out and then tortured again when they regain consciousness, kicked with boots, beaten by a “carousel” of inmates and guards on the buttocks and legs with polypropylene pipes and sticks,and are called “woman,” “faggot” and “ass-bugger” by guards who humiliate them.
The ostensible purpose of the torture is to get the names of other gay men, but one refugee tells Human Rights Watch that if a victim gives up information, it actually prolongs the torture in hopes of more information. Officials also record the torture sessions on cellphone cameras to show families later as proof of what will happen to them if they do not “remove the stain of homosexual shame from their families.”
France and Germany have begun issuing special visas to LGBTQ people fleeing Chechnya, becoming the second and third countries to offer refuge for escaped Chechens.
Germany issues the visas on “urgent humanitarian grounds” and welcomes its first Chechen refugee on June 6, with four other applications being reviewed. France accepts its first Chechen refugee on June 5, with more refugees arriving in the following days.
Fred Erick, a New York attorney, raises $256,278 to help queer men flee Chechnya via a Facebook fundraiser for Rainbow Railroad, a Canadian organization that has helped 37 men flee Chechnya by working closely with the Russian LGBT Network. Erick says 6,000 people donated and 7,300 people shared the campaign, including gay Star Trek actor George Takei, which helped boost its notoriety.
Russian journalist Irina Gordienko of Novaya Gazeta is a nominee in the Gala des Outs d’Or in Paris, for her coverage of Chechnya’s gay purge. While in Paris she sits down with Hornet to discuss her coverage and the newspaper’s history.
She also spoke about when Chechnya’s gay purge began …
We started hearing about it at the beginning of March, but the repression started around the 20th of February. One of my colleagues took the testimony of a local law enforcement officer. Then there was another testimony, then another. We thought something was going on. We started to do research and we heard testimony from victims who experienced this repression. It was on the basis of these testimonies and investigations that we published a first article on April 1.
… how she believes it all started …
A man was arrested under the influence of a light drug. The police began to interrogate him to find out where he found the drug and he gave the name of the person who provided it. This man was also arrested, the police searched his phone, there were contacts of men and pornographic photos. The police began to arrest the men in his phone. They were taken to detention centers and sometimes tortured. The police asked each man to denounce eight or 10 people to be released.
… and how Russian media has reported on the purge:
[Did the Russian media talk about this tragic topic?] No, not in the official newspapers. We have some national media but most are owned by entrepreneurs close to the Kremlin so they can not criticize the authorities. But on the Internet, there are some independent media that have talked about it.
Numerous LGBTQ and human rights organizations sign onto an open letter urging U.S. President Trump and his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to condemn what’s happening in Chechnya ahead of Trump meeting with Putin at the G20 world leader summit in Germany. The letter also expresses shock at the administration’s failure to raise concerns thus far.
On the eve of the first G20 summit meeting between Trump and Putin, The Russian LGBT Network — which has at this point helped approximately 40 gay Chechens escape the region — says it has “received more calls from Chechnya in the last 72 hours” and has “credible evidence that arrests are happening again.”
According to the newspaper, 27 men, ranging from 18 to 33 years old, were shot to death on the night of Jan. 25, 2017, and buried in hastily dug graves at various local cemeteries. The newspaper concludes the decision to carry out these extrajudicial executions was made centrally, and considers this the worst mass extrajudicial execution to date. It’s believed to be separate from Chechnya’s gay purge.
The newspaper publishes the list of the dead because it no longer has faith in a proper investigation by Russian authorities, noting that many of the victims’ relatives have been expecting their loved ones to return home. “Only the dead in Chechnya have nothing more to fear,” the paper says.
July 16, 2017: HBO’s Real Sports interviews Ramzan Kadyrov
HBO airs a special on Chechen leader Ramzqn Kadyrov, who also happens to be an MMA (mixed martial arts) event promoter. The special sits down with both Kadyrov (his first interview with a Western reporter in years) and Novaya Gazeta journalist Elena Milashina, who initially broke the story of Chechnya’s gay purge.
While being interviewed, Kadyrov refers to Chechnya as “a completely democratic republic,” touts the republic’s freedom of speech and happy citizens, and dismisses all claims of Chechnya’s gay purge as “nonsense.” He also nonsensically claims “We don’t have such people here,” referring to gay men in Chechnya, while also claiming any gay men should be purged from the region “to purify our blood.” And despite honor killings being illegal under Russian law, including in Chechnya, Kadyrov openly admits he condones the custom of relatives murdering gay family members.
Responding to the HBO interview, Russian spokesperson Dmitry Peskov excuses Kadyrov’s comments away: “As for Kadyrov’s interview, frankly speaking, very often his words are taken out of context. … Nothing out of the ordinary was said there.”
July 20, 2017: A Vox video suggests strained relations between Russia and Chechnya
A “video explainer” of Ramzan Kadyrov by U.S. outlet Vox (watch it here) delves into the leader’s use of social media as part of a cultural charm offensive meant to promote himself as a loving, formidable leader, one with militarily might and ties to a long lineage of Islamic Chechen warriors who have fought for the region’s cultural sovereignty.
But the video also suggests certain actions by Kadyrov intending to show allegiance to Putin have backfired, resulting in some believing that Putin is no longer able to control Kadyrov. Certain stunts, most notably a televised MMA fight between 10-year-old boys, have resulted in investigations and possible cuts to the Chechen budget.
July 27, 2017: There’s something sketchy about this Chechnya fundraiser
Not all attempts at fundraising for Chechnya have passed muster, as this report by Hornet shows. A sexy 2018 calendar purporting to help raise money for Chechnya’s gay purge raised eyebrows. Proceeds from calendar sales were said to go to Rainbow Railroad, a legitimate charity doing good work in Chechnya, but unanswered questions led some to suspect a scam. If anything, this story was a reminder to vet one’s charitable donations.
A new 31-page report from the Russian LGBT Network includes testimonies from 33 detainees and witnesses to Chechnya’s gay purge. According to the report, the purge has occurred in three waves: the first lasting from December 2016 to February 2017, the second from March 2017 until Ramadan (May 2017), the third from June 2017 until the present (as of August 2017).
The report has three other main takeaways: (1) the cultural conditions that set the stage for Chechnya’s anti-gay purge; (2) how Chechen authorities are finding suspected homosexuals, including roadside stops, home raids and workplace visits; and (3) the torture methods used in Chechnya’s gay purge, including electrocution, beatings, starvation, dehydration, isolation, forced nudity and verbal abuse.
One man says his torturers showed him a graphic video of a plastic pipe inserted into the anus of a detainee, before barbed wire is forced into the pipe and rips out his rectum. Upon revealing the same tools to this man, he revealed his gay associates to avoid a similar fate.
August 5, 2017: Two more countries start accepting Chechen refugees
A source close to the Lithuanian government reveals that Canada and another anonymous country have both begun accepting refugees fleeing Chechnya’s gay purge. This makes them the fourth and fifth countries to accept Chechen refugees behind Lithuania, France and Germany.
Very few E.U. nations have accepted refugees because of “refugee fatigue.” Sweden’s Minister of Justice, Morgan Johansson, says that “it cannot help everyone.”
By now, the Russian LGBT Network has helped over 60 gay Chechens relocate.
August 10, 2017: Gay Chechen journalist won’t be deported to Uzbekistan — for now
Khudoberdi Nurmatov, a 30-year-old openly gay journalist who helped uncover Chechnya’s gay purge while working for Novaya Gazeta, has his deportation to Uzbekistan temporarily halted by a Russian court. Nurmatov fled persecution in Uzbekistan, coming to Russia in 2011. In 2017, he was arrested by Russian authorities when he was believed to be undocumented.
Lawyers for Nurmatov, who attempted suicide by slicing his wrists with a pen while in Russian custody, hope Russia will release him and another European country will grant him asylum.
August 31, 2017: A trans Chechen woman escapes Russia and finds American asylum
A federal judge in Chicago grants a transgender Chechen woman in her mid-30s asylum after she escaped persecution from her relatives and other anti-LGBTQ forces in Russia. The Washington Post calls her “Leyla” and shares her account.
Leyla had left Chechnya in 2002; she lived in Moscow after college, where she lived life as a woman. She kept minimal contact with family in Chechnya, but those relatives began to harass her, and one even showed up on her doorstep. A week later, she was brutally stabbed. She was told pressing charges would require her to return to Chechnya, surely a death sentence. (“Can you imagine?” Leyla said. “The judge would kill me himself!”) A few months later she began to receive death threats when her phone number and pictures of her passport were published in the comments of a social media post by Ramzan Kadyrov.
Leyla and a friend, another trans woman from the Caucasus, booked a flight to Mexico City. They hoped to settle in Argentina but could not afford the flight, so instead paid a smuggler to drop them off near the Mexico-U.S. border. They were picked up after crossing the border, and Leyla said the only English she knew: “Asylum.” She spent time in an immigration detainment facility with a transgender housing unit in California before moving to Chicago and being officially granted asylum.
In an e-mail to the Canadian publication The Globe and Mail, Kirill Kalinin, a spokesman for the Russian embassy in Ottawa, writes that if his country or its associates detect and prove any “legal irregularities” regarding the Russian-Canadian underground railroad, they “shall be duly investigated.”
On Canada’s secret work to assist gay Chechen refugees, Rainbow Railroad’s Executive Director Kimahli Powell says, “We needed to be discreet about the program for as long as possible to maintain their safety. We now have to focus on settlement and integration of these individuals. And it’s important that our community, who are concerned about them, know that they’re here, that they’re safe.”
October 14, 2017: A ‘Voices 4 Chechnya’ rally happens in New York City
Hundreds of New Yorkers gather on the steps of the Stonewall National Monument, the birthplace of the modern gay liberation movement, for “Voices 4 Chechnya.” Attendees rally and march to Trump Tower to protest Chechnya’s gay purge.
“We [demand] humanitarian visas for those who’ve escaped from Chechnya and are now hiding in safe houses in mainland Russia. The march will also raise money for RUSA LGBT, a support network for Russian-speaking LGBTQ+ individuals in America,” says the event’s website.
October 16, 2017: A new witness of Chechnya’s gay purge steps forward, tells his story
Maxim Lapunov, a 30-year-old who originally came to Chechnya from Siberia, puts a public face on Chechnya’s gay purge, telling his story to Noyaya Gazeta and participating in a public press conference.
On Mar. 16, 2017, Chechen authorities in plain clothes grabbed him from his place of work at the Grand Park shopping center in Grozny and shoved him into a car. He was beaten and forcibly gay up the name of one gay friend in Grozny, who was also captured. The friend was beaten severely, with Lapunov forced to watch. The two men were also told to beat and perform sexual acts on each other. He was held for 12 days, during which he slept on a blood-stained piece of cardboard in a cold, concrete cell.
In early May, Lapunov contacted the Russian LGBT Network’s hotline for help. Lapunov is the first person to publicly submit an application to the Investigative Committee of Russia. You can read this lengthy account of his detainment and torture here.
October 22, 2017: A gay Russian pop singer is tortured and killed in Chechnya
Last seen on Aug. 8, attending his sister’s wedding in the Chechen capital of Grozny, Russian pop singer Zelimkhan Bakaev is confirmed to have been detained by Chechen officials for “suspicion of homosexuality.” According to activists, the singer was picked up in Grozny three hours after arriving and over the course of the following hours was tortured to death.
Chechnya’s National Policy Minister Dzhambulat Umarov goes on TV claiming Bakaev has not been arrested, and the state-run television channel Grozny TV even publishes a fake video of a young man claiming to be Bakaev, saying he has left Chechnya and moved to Germany.
The U.S. Senate unanimously passes a resolution condemning the nearly year-long campaign of detention, torture and murder of LGBTQ people in Chechnya. The resolution “calls on Chechen officials to immediately cease the abduction, detention and torture of individuals on the basis of their actual or suspected sexual orientation, and hold accountable all those involved in perpetrating such abuses.” It also asks the U.S. government to “condemn the violence and persecution in Chechnya.”
The U.S. House passed a similar resolution in June, meaning the entire U.S. Congress has publicly opposed the roundup and slaughter of queer people in Chechnya.
November 12, 2017: Russian activists attacked with acid during a Moscow protest
Six people were injured by an acid attack as they left the fourth annual LGBTIQ+ Family Conference. One of the people injured is Zoya Matisova, a well-known activist who recently became a board member of the Russian LGBT Network. The injuries were minor. It’s believed a spy must have posed as an LGBTQ person at organizational meetings to find out the time and place where the weekend conference would be held.
November 16, 2017: Over 70 LGBTQ men have been evacuated from Chechnya, and Hornet is helping
To date, over 70 men have been evacuated from Chechnya thanks to the efforts of the Russian LGBT Network, finding refuge in France, Argentina and Lithuania. Hornet is continuing to work with the Russian LGBT Network and ILGA Europe to assist LGBTQ people who are still in Chechnya and in need of information and resources.
In addition to partnering with advocacy group Alturi to raise funds for the Russian LGBT Network, Hornet has sent out several messages to men near Chechnya, providing info about the Network and evacuation efforts.
November 27, 2017: Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov says he’s ‘Ready to step down’
In an interview with national TV channel Rossiya 1, Kadyrov, who has ruled Chechnya since 2007, says he’s prepared to resign: “It is possible to say that it is my dream. Once there was a need for people like me to fight, to put things in order. Now we have order and prosperity … and time has come for changes in the Chechen Republic.” Upon his resignation, the Kremlin would choose a successor.
An anonymous member of the Russian LGBT Network tells Hornet:
We have already mentioned in our report devoted to the current persecutions of LGBT people in Chechnya that we believe that the local authorities including Ramzan Kadyrov are involved in those persecutions. It is possible that the departure of Kadyrov might stop the organized persecutions, however, we do not believe that it will happen shortly. All together, we strongly believe that it is Federal authorities that must stop the persecutions and conduct an effective direct investigation. It is their direct responsibility to make sure that the kidnappings, tortures and killings are stopped and all responsible parties are punished accordingly. Right now persecutions are still continuing and there is no adequate reaction from the authorities.
December 19, 2017: Chechnya proves that even in 2017 a gay purge can happen
The Russian LGBT Network publishes an op/ed via Hornet that also updates the world on the present situation of Chechnya’s gay purge. To date, more than 100 people have been evacuated from Chechnya. But despite all of the organization’s efforts, there has been no true investigation, and the persecution continues.
“It is not over, and we still have hope,” the op/ed states. “When horrific stories out of Chechnya first began, it was the solidarity and support of people from all over the world that made the federal authorities react. So we will continue our fight. We will continue to evacuate and support people from Chechnya.”
December 20, 2017: The U.S. Treasury announces sanctions against Ramzan Kadyrov
These newly announced sanctions against Kadyrov are the strongest rebuke by the United States against his year-long gay purge since the U.S. Senate’s condemnation in November. The sanctions occurred under the provisions of the 2012 Magnitsky Act, which targets Russians believed to be responsible for grave human rights abuses, prohibiting their entrance into America and their use of U.S. banks.
Also sanctioned is Ayub Kataev, “a law enforcement official … reported to have been involved in abuses against gay men in Chechnya during the first half of 2017.”
Under the sanctions, any U.S. assets are frozen.
December 22, 2017: Facebook and Instagram delete Kadyrov’s accounts
Instagram and Facebook each delete one of Ramzan Kadyrov’s social media accounts, which boasted 4 million followers between them. But Kadyrov’s English-language Instagram account remains active, with 127,000 followers. On that account, Kadyrov posts about the Russian account’s deletion, remarking, “They might block the accounts, but they will never be able to block the Ramzan Kadyrov name.”
Despite the deletion of the Russian Kadryrov Instagram account, he still has social media accounts active on VKontakte (a Russian Facebook-style site), Twitter and the encrypted chat service Telegram.
December 27, 2017: Chechen gay refugee says he was forced to apologize
Chechnya resident Movsar Eskarkhanov made headlines in September when he told Time magazine he’d been a victim of Chechnya’s gay purge. Eskarkhanov had since fled to Germany, but when his asylum bid was denied, he disappeared. He then resurfaced back in Chechnya in November, appearing on state TV and claiming that Time had forced him to fabricate the story to “disgrace Chechnya.”
But now Eskarkhanov is truly coming clean, claiming his appearance on Chechen TV was a forced apology. He claims the Chechen government threatened his family if he didn’t appear on TV, a regular tool in Kadyrov’s arsenal of controlling public information within his country’s borders.
March 1, 2018: Chechnya ranks as the world’s least gay-friendly country
Surprising no one, Chechnya comes in dead last, at #197, on the annually updated Spartacus Gay Travel Index. Ranking examines everything from anti-discrimination legislation, marriage equality, adoption and transgender rights to negative factors like religious influence, hostile locals, whether or not Pride events have been banned, and the really dangerous stuff: prosecution, murder and death sentences for being gay. Chechnya got straight zeros for all positive factors, and only one non-negative score for all the bad factors, because Chechnya has no HIV travel restrictions.
April 6, 2018: Belgium provides 5 Chechen gays with humanitarian visas
Belgian State Secretary for Asylum and Migration Theo Francken says the five men received visas from the Belgian Embassy in Moscow and can now reside in Belgium. He adds that more humanitarian visas may be issued to LGBTQ Chechens in the future.
The Russian LGBT Network confirms to Hornet that Chechnya’s gay purge has neither stopped nor let up: “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 organization claims women are now being illegally detained 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.
Most people in Russia haven’t even heard about Chechnya’s gay purge, says the Russian LGBT Network: “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.”
According to the organization, more than 200 people have reached out for help to flee, 119 people have been evacuated from Chechnya, and 98 of those people have left Russia. It’s not possible to know how many gay Chechens have lost their lives, but the number is thought to be at least 100.