Human rights group reveals details of ‘gruesome ordeal’ facing gay men in Chechnya

International campaign group Human Rights Watch have today published a detailed, 42-page report on the persecution of gay men in Chechnya.

The group’s investigation was launched after Russian independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta revealed at the beginning of April that up to 100 men had been detained for being gay, with some held in detainment camps and at least three at the time disappearing – feared killed.

Human Rights Watch’s report – They Have Long Arms and They Can Find Me’: Anti-Gay Purge by Local Authorities in Russia’s Chechen Republic – is based on first-hand interviews who six former detainees and others affected by the anti-gay purge.

‘The Kremlin has a duty to bring to justice those responsible for the violence’

The report says Police in Chechnya have rounded up, beat, and humiliated dozens of gay or bisexual men in an effort to purge them from Chechen society.

It concludes that the men were held, ‘In secret locations for days or even weeks, and tortured, humiliated, and starved them, forcing them to hand over information about other men who might be gay.

‘They returned most of the men to their families, exposing their sexual orientation and indirectly encouraging their relatives to carry out “honor killings.”

‘Those who have escaped Chechnya remain in danger elsewhere in Russia, with threats continuing against them.’

It says Russian federal authorities must carry out an ‘effective and capable’ investigation into human rights abuses, and calls for foreign governments to provide safe sanctuary to the victims.

‘Men subjected to these gay purges have endured a gruesome ordeal in Chechnya,’ said Graeme Reid, director of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights program at Human Rights Watch.

‘The Kremlin has a duty to bring to justice those responsible for the violence and protect all people in Russia, regardless of their sexual orientation.’

Chechen denial

Chechnya’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, has denied that the purges have taken place. A spokesperson claimed in April that reports were ‘absolute lies and disinformation’ and there were no gay men in Chechnya.

‘You cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic,’ said Alvi Karimov. ‘If such people existed in Chechnya, law enforcement would not have to worry about them, as their own relatives would have sent them to where they could never return.’

The Human Rights Watch report says that any Russian investigation into the purges will be hampered by the fact that victims will be unlikely to want to speak to any Russian authorities about their experiences for fear of reprisals.

The HRW reports finds that:

  • The purges began in February and continued up until at least the first week of April.
  • Men arrested had their cell phones scoured for the names of contacts, and were routinely tortured to give up the names of other gay men.
  • Many men released have fled the country, but others remain detained.
  • Other gay and bisexual men have fled the country for fear of being arrested: they think their contact details might be in the phones of other men.
  • The men interviewed by Human Rights Watch were held in unofficial detention facilities in Grozny, Chechnya’s capital, and Argun. They said that Chechen officials, including two high-level ones, visited these detention facilities and humiliated the detainees.
  • Russian LGBT Network has provided evacuation-related assistance to nearly 40 people, putting them up in safe houses in central Russia and/or taking care of their basic needs: ‘all of them appeared severely traumatized by their ordeal.’

Human Rights Watch says it has been unable to independently confirm that men were killed, but were told by former detainees that three men died: ‘At least three persons died as a result of the purge – a Chechen TV personality and two individuals affiliated with Chechnya’s muftiat (Muslim authority).

‘According to them, security officials returned all three to their relatives in very poor physical condition; one apparently died soon afterwards and the other two were reportedly killed by relatives.’

Queried as to whether arrests have now quitened down, a spokesperson for HRW told GSN, ‘In recent weeks we have not been getting any information about new detentions. We believe that international pressure worked in making Chechen authorities suspend the purge.’

‘They get one person, go through his phone, torture him, make him name some others’

Former detainees gave harrowing accounts of their treatment.

‘It was like a chain. They get one person, go through his phone, torture him, make him name some others, get those others, and so it goes… In the place where I was held, we were four [gay men] at first, but several days later we were already 20.

‘At night, when we were left alone, I tried to convince the new arrivals to buck up, deny everything, not name anyone.

‘I kept telling them that the more people we name, the more information we give, the longer we’ll spend in this hell hole, the longer we’ll be tortured… I was telling them, can’t you see, those who talk are tortured even harder…

‘But the torture was bad–the beatings, and the electric shocks especially–very few could bear it without breaking.’

‘The pain is just insane’

On the subject of electrocutions, a detainee said: ‘They turn the knob, electric current hits you, and you start shaking. And they keep turning the hellish machine, and the pain is just insane, you scream, and scream, and you no longer know who you are…

‘Finally, you faint, it all goes dark, but when you come to your senses, they start all over again. And once they’re done with you and you get your bearings, you hear other inmates screaming, and the sounds of torture are just there all day, and at some point, you start losing your mind.’

Below: Magomed Daudov, speaker of the Chechen parliament, and Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov

Magomed Daudov

The Human Rights Watch report identifies Magomed Daudov, the speaker of the Chechen parliament, and a close colleague and confidante of Kadyrov, as one of the high-ranking officials to visit the detention centers.

Daudov is regarded as the second most powerful man in Chechnya, where he is commonly just referred to as ‘Lord’.

‘Daudov seems to have played a key role in both securing and giving approval from the Chechen leadership to set in motion the purge.

‘Most of the former detainees interviewed by Human Rights Watch reported hearing the police who held and abused them refer to Daudov and to orders he allegedly issued about violence against gay men. Three of the interviewed detainees witnessed his presence at detention sites in Argun and Grozny.’

Daudov’s visits have previously also been reported by Novaya Gazeta.

Two former detainees also said that Daudov was present when inmates were handed back to their families.

‘They [officials] took us [the interviewee along with other inmates presumed to be gay] to this place and our male family members were there, fathers, brothers, uncles…

‘So, they are there looking at you and they [officials] shout abuse at you, call you names, the most offensive names, and they order you to step forward, admit it to your relatives, admit that you’re gay. And you know they’re likely to kill you if you don’t or they’ll just keep torturing you…

‘Then, they chastise your family members, tell them they brought shame on the family by rearing a pervert, that it’s a huge stain on family honor, a stain that needs to be cleansed… They wouldn’t say it directly but we all knew what it meant.’

Daudov was criticized earlier this year for posting a message on his Instagram that many took as a direct threat to a journalist Grigory Shvedov, threatening to ‘to cut his tongue to standard size’.

Gay Star News has approached Daudov and the Chechen authorities for comment.

The full Human Rights Watch report can be read here.

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