33 Witnesses Describe the Hellish Treatment of Gay and Bi Men in Chechnya
Yesterday, the Russian LGBT Network released a 31-page report based on testimonies of 33 detainees and witnesses brutalized in Chechnya’s eight-month long campaign of hunting, torturing and killing LGBTQ people, particularly gay and bi men. The testimonies were collected with the help of journalists from Novaya Gazeta, the news outlet which first reported the campaign.
According to the report, the purge has occurred in three waves: The first lasted from December 2016 to February 2017, the second from March 2017 until Ramadan (May 2017) and the third from June 2017 until now.
The report states, “Despite the fact that Russia is commonly defined as a society with high levels of homophobia … [the anti-LGBTQ purge in Chechnya] is an unprecedented act of mass violence towards LGBT people in … the Russian Federation.”
Below are the report’s highlights.
The cultural conditions that set the stage for Chechnya’s anti-gay purge
The report directly blames the “consistent and substantial financial support [and] … vast political autonomy and legal immunity” offered to Chechnya by the Russian federal government. Russian feds initially provided this support to help Chechnya rid itself of warring “Chechen Islamist separatist groups” who sought to keep the region free from Russian control, but this effort eventually extended to any groups that opposed Chechen values including suspected drug users, terrorists and homosexuals.
Chechnya’s anti-LGBTQ purge has used the Stalinist method of “shared responsibility,” the idea that families are responsible for raising “public enemies” and deserve punishment if they do not help persecute such enemies. This “shared responsibility,” combined with regional values of kinship, have driven families to conduct “honor killings” if any relative brings shame to the bloodline by violating religious, cultural, political or societal norms.
The report states that the unlawful detainees of gay and bi men began in the late 2000s, as police and military officials set up fake dates and then blackmailed the men for money to keep their homosexuality a secret. In some cases, police threatened the men with repeated violence or death, but these earlier incidents never involved a highly organized campaign of detainment and torture like what’s happening today.
How Chechen authorities find suspected homosexuals
The police arrest men through roadside stops, home raids or workplace visits. (Nowhere is safe.) Police can also conduct random personal searches anywhere under the guise of preventing illegal drugs or terrorism (and there is no way to refuse as police aren’t ever held accountable for their actions). If the police find any questionable belongings — like grooming kits — or suspicious content on phones, they can arrest people immediately.
Multiple witnesses state that police began to accuse the men of being “faggots,” saying that they “liked getting fucked in the ass” and hitting them if they denied it or didn’t respond.
The first wave of Chechnya’s anti-LGBTQ purge occurred after police discovered evidence of same-sex relationships in a suspected drug user’s phone. “He became the source of names of multiple men, who later became the victims of hate crimes,” the report says. “As the number of detainees grew, the offenders got more and more informants in their hands.”
Witnesses say that at least four military camps have been used as detention centers as well as the basements of police stations, evidence of the involvement of Chechen government authorities.
Torture methods used in Chechnya’s anti-gay purge
Torturers use electrocution, beatings, starvation, dehydration, isolation, forced nudity, homophobic insults and misgendering to get the men to reveal more suspected homosexuals. Authorities confiscate all personal belongings and don’t allow the men to contact anyone or to sleep. (Detainees reported getting three hours of sleep a day at most.)
While suspected drug users and terrorists get fed and are allowed to sleep on beds, suspected homosexuals get neither. They aren’t allowed to use the restroom or bathe. They’re forced to sleep on cold concrete floors with up to 18 men in a single cell. Other times the detainees are forced to wash the officers’ cars or clean detainment facilities using ice cold water.
Some torturers seat the men in chairs — their hands handcuffed behind their backs — and kick and beat them with tubes saying that “they were disgusted to touch [homosexuals] with their hands.” Other torturers apply electrocution via tweezers or clamps (using water to increase the current’s flow over the body). Torturers reportedly laugh when the victims begin crying.
Routine beatings occur within the cells with detainees sometimes forced to beat one another. One witness said, “Some detainees developed open-cut wounds, and the cell smelled like rotten meat.”
One man said that the torturers showed him a graphic video of a suspected terrorist having a plastic pipe inserted into his anus and then barbed wire forced into the pipe and ripped out of his rectum. The torturers videotaped the torture, showed it to a gay man and revealed that they had brought a similar plastic pipe and barb wire to use on him. The man then confessed, revealing his gay associates to avoid a similar fate.
Torturers record their sessions for the spokesperson of the Parliament of the Chechen Republic, Magomed Daudov (aka “the Lord”). The torture and detainment can last anywhere from two weeks to a month. Three people reportedly attempted suicide to avoid further torture. Others reportedly died while being tortured.
Women are subject to detainment and torture, too
Lesbian and bisexual women are subject to so-called “corrective rape,” violence, blackmail and honor killings for even the mere suspicion of lesbianism. Some have been subjected to detainment and torture as well.
Since many women have a lower social standing and male relatives who work within the Chechen police and military forces, it’s easier to monitor, threaten, torture and kill them. One woman was reportedly poisoned by her family after trying to escape multiple times; her cause of death was listed as “organ rejection, in consequence of complications after having the flu.”
Detainees continue to suffer even after their release
The release of detainees takes the form of a ceremonial event in which Chechen authorities meet with families and encourage them “to find a ‘proper solution’ to get rid of the ‘sick’ members of their family,” adding that if they kill their gay relative, the family will avoid further persecution and scrutiny.
Authorities require families to pay a ransom to get their relatives back and warn the families not to flee, promising random check-ins. If gay or bi men flee, their families can face retaliatory violence and persecution from police and military.
The report says that dozens of gay and bi men were likely slain in familial “honor killings” after release. However, the report also says that, “Some families falsified an honor killing and even held fake funerals to cover up the fact that their LGBT relatives fled the Republic.”
Other detainees are told that they’ll have to help authorities locate and detain other “public enemies.” If they refuse to participate, they’re threatened with imprisonment for any unsolved crimes (since police cannot formally imprison someone for homosexuality).
The case against Chechnya is building at a painfully slow pace
Over the last four months, the Russian LGBT Network has received 130 assistance requests from people looking to flee governmental and familial persecution in Chechnya and its neighboring Republics in the North Caucasus region. Overall, they’ve helped 64 people escape to safe shelters located in central Russia, providing “housing, nutrition, travel costs, paperwork, social and psychological support” and more.
The Chechen authorities have continued to deny the purge by denying the very existence of any LGBTQ Chechens. They add that they’ve no received no official complaints of any sort related to a purge. Russian federal authorities have also demonstrated little interest in investigating.
After meeting with several previous detainees, the Commissioner for Human Rights in the Russian Federation, Tatiana Moskal’kova, announced that she was ready to assist with an investigation. However, her office “has no feasible authority to contribute to a thorough and transparent investigation” and cannot legally provide protection to any former detainee who issues a formal criminal complaint against Chechen authorities. Without a binding guarantee of such safety, former detainees are reluctant to file such a complaint.
The report says that Moskal’kova has asked a Russian Investigative committee to “receive an update” on a list of people allegedly killed in the purge. If these people are found to be missing or dead, it will help add to the evidence that in an International Criminal Court lawsuit against the Head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov.