The international non-governmental organization, Human Rights Watch, recently released a report which provides disturbing details about Chechnya’s months-long campaign of kidnapping, torture and murder against suspected LGBTQ people. The report details some of the Chechen officials involved, the methods of torture and the widespread system of denial used by Russian officials.
The report’s details came from interviews with four escaped detainees, journalists who documented the crackdown and representatives with the Russian LGBT Network. Here are the five most revealing details from the report:
1. Chechnya is somewhat outside of Putin’s control
The Russian LGBT Network previously told Unicorn Booty that the campaign would only stop with direct intervention by the administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin. However, since Chechnya’s leader Ramzan Kadyrov rise to power after a prolonged period of war, he has operated brutally and without interference as the region’s dictator for the last decade and has since used state and social media to present himself as a strong man leader, publicly vilifying and mobilizing his followers against any critics.
In the months before the 2016 vote for the head of Chechnya, local authorities executed a “vicious and comprehensive crackdown” anyone who showed anything other than total loyalty to Kadyrov. These people included people who expressed dissenting opinions through social media, Russian and foreign journalists and human rights defenders who dared challenge instances of abuse by Chechen forces.
If Putin tried to interfere, he will be met with strong resistance. In early 2014, Kadyrov instructed Chechnya’s law enforcement officers to “shoot to kill” any Russian federal law enforcement or security personnel from outside Chechnya who came to the Checnen Republic without his consent. That is, he has millions of followers willing to kill Vladimir Putin’s people, plain and simple, and is willing to go to war, having lived through it for a good part of his life.
2. The torturers use electrocution, starvation, insults and exposure
We had already heard that the torturers will electrocute victims by clamping metal clothespins on their fingers, earlobes or toes and by having the men hold onto horseshoe-shaped pieces of metal attached to a battery. But detainees are also stripped naked, made to sleep on a concrete floor during 35 to 50 degree nights (the sounds of screams from other tortured inmates filling the air), are starved for weeks, tortured until they pass out and then tortured again when they regain consciousness, kicked with boots, beaten by a “carousel” of inmates and guards on the buttocks and legs with polypropylene pipes and sticks until they’re covered in bruises and are called “woman,” “faggot” and “ass-bugger” by guards who humiliate them.
The ostensible purpose of the torture is to get the names of other gay men, but one refugee told Human Rights Watch that if a victim gives up information, it actually prolongs the torture in hopes of more information. Torturers also record the torture sessions on cellphone cameras to show families later as proof of what will happen to them if they do not “remove the stain of homosexual shame from their families” (that is, kill their LGBTQ relatives).
3. Denying the existence of gay people works in Russia
On Apr. 1, 2017, Ramzan Kadyrov’s spokesperson said, “There are no LGBT at all in the Chechen republic. To be honest, I’m not sure what the acronym stands for, but I know it’s something bad. And no such community exists in Chechnya.”
Denying the existence of gay people in Russia may seem laughable to Westerners, but it’s actually an effective means of denial because unlike in America, Russians don’t have lots of public images — openly LGBTQ celebrities, a Russian equivalent of the “It Gets Better” campaign, a diverse LGBTQ film history or other queer media — to publicly expose the public at large to the humanity of queer people which would also make folks aware of their widespread existence.
In Russian media, LGBTQ are routinely depicted as psychological abnormalities and enemies of the state, making common, unquestioning citizens think that they’re rare and dangerous.
4. The Russian Government is playing dumb about the crackdown
On Apr. 24, 2017, President Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said that the Kremlin perceived the allegations of anti-LGBTQ abuse in Chechnya as “phantom” because no official complaints had been lodged by the alleged victims. This is a horrific denial of basic common sense.
Peskov told the press, “We know that when a law is violated, people go to the police… We have no reasons to believe that Kadyrov could provide false information to the head of the State. Until there are some personal complaints in that respect… not abstract, impersonal, but personal, we have no grounds to distrust the head of the [Chechen] republic.”
The police in Chechnya have long worked with Kadyrov to help kidnap, torture and kill anyone even deemed as remotely criticizing local leadership. So anyone who tries to lodge an official complaint with police will surely be captured, tortured and possibly killed. Considering this, is it any wonder that Russia has heard “no official complaints”?
Russia has pledged to conduct an official investigation, but if they’re basing their conclusions on a lack of police complaints, their report will be brief indeed. In fact, we have already heard reports of Chechen officials threatening to harm the families of any escaped detainees who assist with Russia’s (or anyone else’s) investigation.
5. Here’s what Human Rights Watch wants to see happen next…
Human Rights Watch has asked Putin to publicly condemn “in the strongest terms” Chechnya’s anti-LGBTQ purge, ensure anonymity and protection for the purge’s victims and reporting journalists so they can aid in a thorough and impartial investigation of the abuses and help ensure an immediate and full shutdown of the purge’s acting agents, detainment centers and violence. Furthermore, they want Russia to repeal its so-called “gay propaganda” ban, train police officers to respect the rights of LGBTQ people and condemn all actions and speech against LGBTQ people by any government officials or others.
Internationally, Human Rights Watch wants the European Union, its member states, Canada, the U.S., Australia and other governments to bring up Chechnya at multinational meetings, provide sanctuary to Chechen refugees (something the U.S. has reportedly refused to do), vocally support investigators and journalists uncovering abuses in Chechnya and help closely monitor the situation through the United Nations’ Independent Expert and by appointing a new rapporteur on human rights violations in the Northern Caucasus through the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
Lastly, Human Rights Watch has called upon the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) to pressure Russia into “demonstrating an unequivocal commitment to LGBT rights” via a public statement as a condition for Russia hosting the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
(Featured image by innovatedcaptures via iStock Photography)