In a chilling response to reports of extreme levels of homophobic violence against men “with non-traditional sexual orientation, or suspicion of such” in Chechnya, Russia. A Chechen government spokesperson, has gone so far as to deny the very existence of gay people in the region: “you cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic”, Alvi Karimov said in a statement to the news agency Interfax.
Since the publication of these events by the respected independent Russian newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, at the beginning of April 2017, further reports have confirmed a brutal campaign – a “prophylactic sweep” – against gay men in Chechnya. So far, the campaign has had more than one hundred individuals suspected of homosexuality unofficially detained, tortured and killed in a former military base on the outskirts of Argun. Detainees from multiple locations have reported similar stories of beatings and torture by electric-shock. Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch reported that “some of the men have forcibly disappeared. Others were returned to their families barely alive from beatings. At least three men apparently have died since this brutal campaign began.”
She added that intensity of homophobia and brutality of oppression in Chechnya is such that “very few people dare speak to human rights monitors or journalists even anonymously because the climate of fear is overwhelming and people have been largely intimidated into silence … Filing an official complaint against local security officials is extremely dangerous, as retaliation by local authorities is practically inevitable.” Since exposing the Chechan violent persecution of gay men, Novaya Gazeta has voiced fears about government reprisals against its journalists. The Russian office of Amnesty International has echoed these concerns, warning of “a threat of violence against journalists.”
As Kyle Knight writes, “Chechnya is an administrative unit of the Russian federation, and Russia’s authorities are duty bound to uphold the rights and fundamental freedoms enshrined in its domestic legislation and international human rights obligations.” However, this seems somewhat unlikely, given the deterioration of the human rights situation for LGBT people in Russia in recent years and the severe lack of accountability for torture, enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings in Chechnya.
Given this situation, international pressure must be exerted on Russia to fulfill its obligations and bring perpetrators of human rights abuses to justice. The Russian LGBT network has launched an emergency program to evacuate LGBT people in Chechnya at risk of being captured – or those having survived arrest and torture but still at risk of being killed at home in the name of “family honour” in deeply homophobic communities. Foreign governments must provide aid, sanctuary and humanitarian visas to LGBT people who are at risk and trying to leave Chechnya.
Russia is currently set to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup but the country must do more to prevent and prosecute such horrifying levels of homophobic violence and human rights abuses. Boycotting the 2018 World Cup in Russia could possibly prompt the country into action and show the tortured victims of Chechnya and homophobic persecution across the world that they are not alone.
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