Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta was the first to report that Chechen authorities are capturing, imprisoning, and killing and torturing gay people.
Over 100 people have been tortured in secret detention centres many are calling concentration camps. Three gay men have been murdered; some news reports are putting the true figure killed at 20. Some have been killed by their families, who have been urged to kill them to “wash clean their honour”.
Starvation, electrocutions, beatings, and ransoms are just some of the techniques authorities have reportedly used to force gay men to reveal the identity of others.
One escaped detainee, “Adam”, explained to The Guardian what the camps are like: “They woke us up at 5am and let us sleep at 1am. Different people would come in and take turns to beat us… They called us animals, non-humans, said we were going to die there.”
Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechen leader and ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, sparked outrage by saying the reports could not be true—because homosexuals “do not exist” in Chechnya and if such people existed “their relatives would send them somewhere from which there is no returning”.
Kremlin spokespeople have declared the accusations “phantom complaints”. But they are investigating the journalists responsible for breaking the story. Six journalists from the paper have been murdered since 2006.
A Russian NGO, the LGBT Network, has started an underground railroad to help people flee to Moscow. They have had 60 requests for evacuation in three weeks.
Putin’s homophobic offensive
The homophobic horror in Chechnya follows an anti-gay offensive pushed by Putin for the last several years. His government passed a law in 2013 prohibiting the promotion of “non-traditional relationships” to minors. The law makes it effectively illegal to speak out in favour of LGBTI rights, or positively speak of gay relationships.
Hate crimes have escalated (there were at least two homophobic murders in 2013 alone); and support for LGBTI rights has shifted backwards. Moscow city has denied permission to hold a Pride march since 2012, with the Mayor calling such parades “satanic”.
Western rulers have chosen, when it suits them, to posture over Russia’s human rights record. Australia’s Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, has expressed concern about the situation, as has the US ambassador to the UN.
No doubt those detained on Nauru and Manus Island would be surprised to hear senior Coalition spokespeople are concerned about accusations of unjust imprisonment.
If Bishop is concerned for the safety of LGBTI people, she should start at home. Bishop’s own party in NSW has just defunded the Safe Schools program, an LGBTI-positive sex and relationships program. Since the defeat of the equal marriage plebiscite, the Coalition has continually stalled on passing legislation that the vast majority of Australians support.
Rather than demand our governments punish Russia—in a period of rising imperialist tensions over Syria and the South China Sea—we should demand they welcome LGBTI refugees, legislate for equal marriage, and properly fund Safe Schools. Tellingly, UK Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, after tweeting his outrage about Chechnya, referred queries about asylum to another office.
Iron rule in Chechnya
Some reports have referred to Islam in Chechnya as an explanation for such horrendous homophobia. But as Novaya Gazeta reporter Irina Gordiyenko told SBS, “what lies at the heart of the problem [is] the impunity of the Chechen authorities”.
The present Chechen leadership are Russian lackeys—and they take after Putin in their persecution of LGBTI people. Kadyrov has faced numerous accusations of kidnappings and beatings of his opponents.
Chechnya is a small territory in the Caucusus mountain range that has been occupied by colonial powers for over 200 years.
Tsarist Russia first conquered Chechnya, marking the beginning of the longest active war in the world. A brief period of independence won through the 1917 Russian Revolution was ended by Stalin—who deported the entire Chechen population to Kazakhstan in 1944. A third died on the journey, and the remaining Chechens were only allowed to return in 1957. Alongside this, Stalin launched a campaign against Chechen culture.
The end of Stalinist rule in 1991 again brought the promise of freedom, and Chechen separatists declared independence. But Russia’s rulers—many of whom emerged from the savage Stalinist bureaucracy—reinvaded the country in 1994. A successful guerrilla struggle forced Russian withdrawal, but Putin launched a new invasion in 1999. It was his willingness to prosecute war against Chechnya that secured Putin’s rise to power in Russia.
By Amy Thomas