A new wave of persecutions against the LGBT community in Chechnya began in late December 2018, leading to the death of two people and the incarceration of dozens of others, the Russian LGBT Network detailed in a document published on Monday.
According to the sources who contacted the Network, the persecution multiplied after the administrator of a group for homosexuals in the northern Caucasus on Russian social network “VKontakte” was arrested.
What happened next, according to the article, was a new round of extrajudicial arrests, which include the withdrawal of documents, threats of repercussions against gay people and their loved ones and the forced signature of empty forms. Other tortures are said to have led to the death of at least two people.
“One of the distinctions of this wave of detention is the indescribably brutal cruelty of torture. They were terrible in 2017 too - people were tortured with electric shocks and beaten with plastic pipes. Now it's all much worse”, whistleblower Igor Kochetkov, programme director of LGBT Network Russia told Euronews.
A track record of human rights violations
The news comes just weeks after an Organisation for the Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) report drafted by Austrian professor Wolfgang Benedek confirmed that the Chechen authorities have been abusing people based on their perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity since at least January 2017. Other people who were persecuted according to Benedek are human rights defenders, lawyers, independent media workers and members of civil society.
The number of victims of what the article described as a “new wave of persecution” is difficult to confirm without a statement from the Chechen authorities. Euronews reached out to Chechnya's state-sponsored Human Rights committee, but at the time of writing have received no response.
The Russian republic’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov - pictured above - enjoys Putin’s support and has been granted huge freedom in his governance methods in order to keep peace in the country, which survived two wars between the 1990s and the early 2000s.
A practising Muslim, Kadyrov has publicly stated, more than once, that gay people in Chechnya don’t exist. During an interview with HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel in July 2018, he denied any possibility of an anti-gay pogrom happening in Chechnya, for this precise reason.
How reliable are the new claims?
The Russian LGBT Network’s claims that at least 40 gay people – both men and women – have been detained and two have died through torture since the end of 2018 are widely believed to be reliable by experts and human rights organisations throughout the world.
The first Russian inter-regional LGBT rights group to ever be founded, the LGBT Network has already been a whistleblower for purges against gay and transsexual people in Chechnya in 2017. At the time, reports that more than a hundred residents in the Chechen Republic had forcibly disappeared or had been tortured in modern-day “concentration camps” after being targeted for their sexual orientation had sparked international attention.
Their reports were verified by professor Benedek himself who, as OCSE rapporteur, has reached out to the network’s president, Igor Kochetkov, as well as to victims and witnesses, within the scope of his work monitoring grave human rights violations in Chechnya. Benedek observed “a standing practice of arbitrary and unlawful arrest and detention, harassment and torture as well as enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions” in the Chechen Republic.
Impunity as strong as ever
“The new purge confirms my findings”, professor Benedek told The Cube: “The impunity enjoyed by the security forces in Chechnya is so strong that they can afford to ignore my report”.
Human rights protection and monitoring in the region is extremely feeble, as Ilya Nuzov, Eastern Europe and Central Asia Desk Director at the International Federation for Human Rights explained to us.
“Kadyrov has publicly called human rights defenders, and other civil society, 'enemies of the people' who have no place in Chechnya”, he said, pointing out that such people are often harassed, threatened and physically attacked to the point that many have decided to stop working in the region. “The head of Memorial, the only Russian NGO remaining in Grozny, was arrested exactly one year ago on fabricated drug possession charges and is currently on trial facing 10 years in prison”, Nuzov asserted, as an example.
This is why Nuzov believes that “as disturbing as that may sound, this wave of repressions was in part sparked by the findings of the OCSE report”. The new purge, he says, could well constitute the Chechen authorities' response to those who had collaborated with Professor Benedek’s investigation and contributed to the information supplied to the LGBT Network or investigative journalists, including the likes of Novaya Gazeta, who had reported the initial wave.
“This was one of the ways for the authorities to pay back for the unwanted spotlight at the international level”, Nuzov adds, although he wishes to underline that he still firmly believes in the importance and relevance of such reports.
Professor Benedek, in return, denied the correlation, saying that he rather believes that there was barely any time for political actors to make use of the information he gathered on the situation in Chechnya.