On 1 April 2017, Novaya Gazeta reported that more than 100 men have been arbitrarily detained and at least three have been murdered by Chechen authorities for their alleged “non traditional” sexual orientation. Independent sources have confirmed the mass detention, described acts of torture, and suggested that the number of men killed may be as many as 20. The scale and scope of the crisis means that LGBTIQ people in Chechnya are in extreme danger, and the international community must act urgently.
In response to the crisis, the Russian LGBT Network is currently evacuating people from Chechnya who may be at risk for kidnapping, arrest or otherwise in harm’s way. The Network is calling on international institutions and governments to pressure Russian authorities to intervene to immediately stop the abuse. It has also underscored that even those LGBTIQ people not at risk of direct state violence may now be at heightened risk of family violence.
Jessica Stern, executive director of OutRight Action International, commented, “The perpetrators of this malicious campaign must be held accountable for the systematic detention, torture, and killings of innocent men in Chechnya. No government should get away with such wanton human rights violations.”
OutRight has requested swift and urgent action from a dozen governments, including that they engage their Russian counterparts to: condemn these reports, urge that the perpetrators be held accountable, demand the men’s immediate release, and insist that all survivors and victims’ families be given reparations. OutRight is also calling for statements of condemnation from United Nations officials.
A spokesman for Chechnya’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, denied the allegations. He said, “You cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic.” The spokesman also indirectly highlighted the violence and homophobia faced by gay men, saying, “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.”
International reaction to these reports has been shock and horror. However, people have also used the crisis to engage in islamophobic, racist, and anti-Russia rhetoric.
“Using a violent attack on men accused of being gay to legitimize islamophobia is dangerous and misleading. It negates the experiences of queer muslims and essentializes all muslims as homophobic. We cannot permit this tragedy to be co-opted by ethno-nationalists to perpetuate anti-Muslim or anti-Russian sentiment. The people and their government are never the same.”
“We remember the victims of this heinous crime. They are in our hearts as we call on the international community to urgently support the safety of all LGBTIQ Chechens.”
Those who may be in distress or in need of help within Chechnya are encouraged to reach out to the Russian LGBT Network at 8 800 555 73 74 (the call is free within Russia). Additionally, anyone with information on the current situation in Chechnya can confidentially contact ILGA-Europe at +32 2 609 54 10 or email@example.com.