On Monday, May 1st, 20 LGBT rights protesters were arrested in St. Petersburg for taking part in the first demonstration inside Russia against the horrifying treatment of gay men in Chechnya. Among the detainees is Igor Kochetkov, director of the Russian LGBT Network, an activist group providing safe houses for gay men escaping brutal violence in the intensely homophobic southern Russian republic.
Kochetkov told Reuters from prison by telephone that “I was waving a rainbow flag and was shouting ‘Kadyrov [the leader of Chechnya] should go to the Hague.” Violent abuses including forced disappearances, torture and at least four killings of gay men in camps in Chechnya were first exposed by the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta at the beginning of April 2017 and after interviews with victims were later corroborated by Human Rights Watch and other international organizations. The Chechnyan government has denied the reports, its interior ministry dismissing the allegations as an “April Fool’s Joke,” while the republic’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov has denied the very existence of LGBT individuals in the region. A British minister of state for the Foreign Office, Sir Alan Duncan, has warned the British parliament of alleged plans to completely “eliminate” the region’s gay community by the start of Ramadan on the 26 May 2017.
Russian President Vladimir Putin granted certain freedoms to the Chechnyan regional leader in an effort to counteract popular support for an Islamic insurgency. This was after the breakup of the Soviet Union. The May Day arrests in St. Petersburg, along with the Russian government’s backing of Chechen leaders’ denials of the brutality, make it clear that the Kremlin will do very little to prevent homophobic violence and bring its perpetrators to justice without international pressure. The international community has, for many years, expressed concern for the state LGBT rights in Russia, a country where pride parades have been banned for a century, but it has been demonstrated that international pressure can have some effect: Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch has argued that the meeting between Putin and Kadyrov on the 19th of April 2017 was “likely a result of consolidated and persistent international pressure… the Kremlin has moved from merely suggesting that victims should file official complaints, to opening a federal investigation into the allegations and now to discussing the situation with Kadyrov.”
The arrest of Russian gay rights activists on May Day in St. Petersburg coincided with news of South Korea’s crackdown on gay soldiers, demonstrating that international pressure for the advancement and protection of LGBT rights must be sustained to end not only the anti-gay purge in Chechnya, but homophobia and discrimination across the world.
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