On April 2nd, news broke that suspected authorities in the Russian republic of Chechnya had detained more than 100 homosexual men as part of a controversial anti-gay campaign. At least three men have been killed according to the Guardian, but journalists who are reporting on the story suspect the death toll is much higher.
Spokespeople for Chechnya deny the paper’s claims.
“You cannot detain and persecute people who simply do not exist in the republic,” they said of the accusations.
The Guardian interviewed a who had recently been held captive for 10 days as part of the hate campaign. “Adam,” whose name has been changed, was sold out by 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,” he tells the Guardian.
As Adam pulled up to the meeting spot, he soon realized this so-called meeting was a set up. There were six people waiting for him, some in uniform. They shouted that they knew he was gay.
Adam was then tossed into the back of a van and was driven to a detention facility, where he was locked in a dark room with roughly a dozen men. They all had to sleep on the cold concrete floor. Other prisoners were brought in, told the men were gay and ordered to beat them.
The captors apparently seized the prisoners’ phones to scroll through their contacts and ordered the captives to out anyone who was gay so that they could plan a meetup to capture them as well. After more than 10 days, some of the men were returned to their families. Adam says this message accompanied his release: “Your son is a faggot. Do what you need to with him.”
Because of Chechnya’s acutely traditional society, being gay person is seen as failure in the family; a permanent stain on the family’s legacy.
“These people have lived in a completely closed society and have spent their whole lives exercising absolute discretion,” Igor Kochetkov, a gay rights activist from St Petersburg who has helped organize an emergency center where gay people in Chechnya can reach out to for assistance with evacuation, tells the Guardian.
Kochetkov says he’s already received dozens of pleas for help, most of which come from people who are hiding from authorities and their own families.
“We are talking about the mass persecution of gay people, with hundreds of people kidnapped by authorities,” Kochetkov told the Guardian. “This is unprecedented not only in Russia but in recent world history. There is little doubt that we are dealing with crimes against humanity.”
A panel of five United Nations experts that advise the UN Human Rights Council called for swift action to end the alleged hate crimes.
“These are acts of persecution and violence on an unprecedented scale in the region and constitute serious violations of the obligations of the Russian Federation under international human rights law,” the experts said in a statement.
Former Vice President Joe Biden decried the alleged crimes in a lengthy statement.
“I am disgusted and appalled by reports from both the Russian media and non-governmental organizations that authorities in the Russian republic of Chechnya have rounded up, tortured, and even murdered individuals who are believed to be gay,” Biden said. “When faced with such crimes of hate and inhumanity, it is the responsibility of every person of conscience to speak out — to oppose this campaign of violence before it continues further.”
Journalist Elena Milashina, who broke the story originally, told the Washington Post that she now has to flee Russia altogether.
“After the second article was published, I had to be very careful while moving between home and work in Moscow,” Milashina says. “I finished all the important things that I had to do and left Moscow for a while. Now I think I will leave the country for a while, too. It doesn’t matter that Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov announced clearly that journalists are under the Kremlin’s protection and that no one can kill them for their professional duty. The threat still exists.”
Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov announced that he nor Putin have any information regarding these anti-gay allegations, though he advised that those with complaints should address their issues with the authorities. Those would be the same authorities that are imprisoning gay men.
Human rights activists are currently attempting to help these gay men flee Russia. European embassies will only grant asylum if a person has already arrived in the country, not to those who plan on seeking asylum on arrival.