By Will Clemons
Disclaimer: The news of prison camps in Chechnya are all alleged reports.
The effort of the LGBTQ+ community to stably exist in the public space has been a difficult fight for many decades. While marriage equality and other protective laws have been passed to protect people in the United States, and 23 other countries around the world, the fight is nowhere near over. This can be clearly seen in many countries across the world today. Be it a country where freedom of expression is denied, or where those convicted end up facing the death penalty, there are many places in the world where your sexuality or gender expression may very well be the cause of a loss of safety or property, life in prison, or even death.
Currently, the countries that support the death penalty for homosexuality, regardless of number of convictions or ethnicity, are Yemen, Saudi Arabia, parts of Somalia and Nigeria, and Iran. If you are convicted of homosexuality, you will be put death, and this penalty is accepted by law. However, in light of recent news, a newcomer has joined the list of countries that legislate against homosexuality: the federal subject of Russia, Chechnya. Officials have allegedly opened prison camps for homosexuals. These claims come after substantiated reports of gay men being evicted from their houses and interrogated by Chechen officials, and many times violently abused. Those taken are electrocuted, starved, and beaten.
Currently, one man has died during interrogation, and two others have been killed through “honor killings”. Said killings occur when the Chechen officials and interrogators return the convicted men to their families and tell the head of the family that their son/brother/etc. is gay. This is potentially more dangerous than brutally attacking the convicted men, because Chechen culture sees homosexuality as a stain on a family. Many refuse to do business with or marry a person who has a homosexual in their direct family. Because of this, when the head of the family finds out a person is gay within their family, they murder their family member in order to prevent further damaging of the family’s reputation.
Meanwhile, many organizations are currently trying their best to prevent the persecution of gay men. Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, or GLAAD, is currently working on a “rainbow railroad”, a way to get gay men from Chechnya to Canada. The Human Rights Campaign also wrote to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to ask Vladimir Putin about the killings in Chechnya during Tillerson’s trip to Russia. Currently, President Donald Trump has yet to mention any events occurring in the state, even after former Vice President Joe Biden released a public statement calling upon the president to denounce the killings.
While many LGBTQ+ advocates are terrified by this proudly worn, open display of hate crimes, the most fear-inducing part to many are the statements made by the Head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov. Kadyrov promised to “eliminate” the gay population of Chechnya by May of 2017.
Alvi Karimov, spokesperson for Kadyrov, denied the killings and attacks before Kadyrov’s promise, stating that “you cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic.” Karimov also went on to say that that there is no need to persecute gays if they did exist in Chechnya because, “their relatives would send them somewhere from which there is no returning.”
Finally, there is good news to those who oppose the persecution. Amnesty International has called for a legitimate investigation and intervention, with over 150,000 people signing a petition backing the organization’s effort. Amnesty International claims that side from the human-rights violations of gay men. These events have been growing anti-gay sentiments in Russia.
Survivors of the torture and interrogations have spoken out many times, condemning the persecution, and calling upon others, especially the US Congress, to denounce the Chechen officials who allow these kidnappings and killings to go on. One of these survivors, while giving his account in a video by the nonprofit organization Human Rights First, told a chilling recount of his interrogation, with words that will stay with all those who hear it.
“Sometimes they were just trying to get information from me – other times, they were just amusing themselves. They called us animals, inhuman. They said we were going to die there.”