Since the end of February this year, the Chechnyan government has been rounding up homosexual and bisexual men and taking them to illegal detention facilities. There they have been tortured, and forced to give out names of other LGBT people. It is believed that over a hundred men have been seized, some of whom have disappeared and at least three have been killed. How could things go so far?
Chechnya is an autonomous state in Russia with approximately 1.4 million inhabitants. Ramzon Kadyrov, the Head of the region, has essentially been running the state by himself for the last ten years. Moscow has been comfortable with letting him do whatever he wants with the region, since he has kept the region’s separatists away from power.
The state is extremely conservative and Kadyrov is influencing the politics with a strict interpretation of Islam, for example he supports polygamy and mandatory modest rules for women. He is also no stranger to abducting and torturing people. During the second Chechen war (1999-2009), that’s exactly what he did to separatists and their suspected allies.
Homosexuality is extremely taboo in Chechnya, and people often hide it from even their closest family. It is not uncommon that gay people try to “live a normal life”, with a spouse of the opposite sex and children. Exposing one’s sexual orientation is not only a personal risk, but one’s family may also be affected. For example, a sibling’s marriage prospect might be at risk, since it is so shameful to have a LGBT person in your family. Gay people have also been blackmailed by authorities.
Because of this, an LGBT person in Chechnya doesn’t only have to fear the government, but also their own family. Families may not only distance themselves, but possibly also become violent. Some of the people who have been released from government detention were brought to their families, who were encouraged to commit honor killings.
It is also important to mention the situation in Russia as a whole, which is extremely oppressive to LGBT people. Ever since Putin signed the law against “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” in 2013, the situation has only become worse. There have been many physical assaults, and gay teachers have been forced to leave their jobs. The country can now legally ban any site that in any way speaks positively of the LGBT community, so people have no way of finding out any objective information.
So what is being done about the situation in Chechnya? Not very much since the only actor that can really do anything at this point, Russia, is refusing to acknowledge that anything is going on. Putin’s spokesperson announced in April that there is nothing illegal happening in Chechnya. Kadyrov doesn’t even accept that there are any LGBT people in the state
“Chechen society does not have this phenomenon called non-traditional sexual orientation. For thousands of years the people have lived by other rules, prescribed by God.”
The only people in the state that are gay are, according to him, fake Chechens, who want to get closer to the West.
Covering up that over a hundred men have been detained and tortured is not simple, and Human Rights Watch have had their eye on the situation for some time now. Their recommendation is that important actors, like the United Nations and the US, keeps a pressure on Moscow to make sure that this purge ends. They also stress the importance of Western countries giving asylum to the victims, since they are not safe in their home country.
Luckily enough there are people working against the attacks on the LGBT community. The head of the Russian LGBT Network, Tatyana Vinnichenko, works to get victims medical care, house arrangements and plane tickets out of the country. In the beginning of May she had been able to get four men out of the country, and even more into safe houses.
There is hope left for Chechnya, but it is important that states and people take a stand against their mistreatment. The world should never sit idly by while people are being killed and oppressed for their sexuality.