Russian independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta has reported the extrajudicial persecution and murder of gay or perceived gay men in Chechnya, a republic of Russia. Human Rights Watch reported to the Telegraph that they have received credible reports that gay men were being detained and tortured in an unofficial detention centre. Novaya Gazeta reported that the men they spoke to suffered beatings, electric shocks, and were pressured into giving up the names and contact details of other LGBT individuals. It was reported that over 100 people were detained by authorities and at least three killed. NGOs and independent Russian news organisations have further reported systematic persecution occurring against LGBT people in Chechnya.
The UN Human Rights Council and other international organisations have condemned the report and urged Chechen authorities to end the persecution. The UN’s High Commissioner has insisted that Putin’s government carry out an investigation into the report. However, Russia’s response has been cold and dismissive, with Putin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov telling journalists, “We do not have any reliable information about any problems in this area.” Further, he stated that those who did believe, “in their opinion,” that they were being persecuted should report to the authorities, a suggestion criticised by Human Rights Watch as “tone deaf and cynical.”
Chechen authorities and leaders have denied the reports and have stated that there are no LGBT people in the Chechen republic. The Guardian reported that comments made by Chechen leadership are representative of, and further fuel, the rampant homophobia that exists in Chechnya. LGBT people are vulnerable to murder and persecution from authorities, wider society, and their own families, who practice “honor killings.” Alvi Karimov, Chechen leadership spokesperson, told Russian news agency Interfax, “You cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic…If such people existed in Chechnya, law enforcement would not have to worry about them since their own relatives would have sent them to where they could never return.”
Novaya Gazeta has expressed concerns that the journalists who reported on the persecution will face retribution and attacks. After the newspaper published the reports, a gathering that included religious leaders was held in Chechnya’s main mosque. The Guardian reported that they called for “reprisals” against the journalists for their “lies and slander,” and their “slander” of the Chechen republic. Dmitry Muratov, Novaya Gazeta’s editor-in-chief, has called for Russian authorities to investigate these threats.
The statement made by Dmitry Peskov, suggesting that those that believe they are being abused by Chechen authorities should simply report the abuse to authorities, illustrates the way persecution of LGBT people is overlooked by the Russian government. The lack of options in securing their safety or seeking justice for LGBT victims in Chechnya should be a sign for the international community to step up and take action against this violent persecution. Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop spoke to Fairfax Media and stated that the Australian government is “concerned” about the reports of persecution occurring in Chechnya against LGBT individuals and that the government has “raised [their] concerns” with the Russian government, with efforts being made to find out if any Australian citizens are involved. Scott Ludlam, a Greens foreign affairs spokesman, has written to Julie Bishop, telling her, “The Australian government cannot sit idly by whilst state-sponsored hate crimes are perpetrated,” as reported by Fairfax Media. While the Australian government has a duty to its Australian citizens overseas, it also has a duty in the international community to protect LGBT individuals from persecution, regardless of their citizenship. The Australian government, as well as the wider international community, have a responsibility to the victims of abuse and systematic persecution in Chechnya.
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