Gay men in Chechnya were electrocuted, kicked, punched, and “disappeared”: report
“They electrocuted us, beat us with pipes, kicked us, and punched us, they made other inmates beat us, they called us names, spat in our faces.” This is just one account collected by Human Rights Watch as part of a new report detailing the detention, torture and humiliation of gay men at the hands of Chechen authorities — and allegedly at the direction of Chechnya’s government.
The report’s release coincides with the news that Russian authorities are actively investigating allegations of the anti-gay purge in Chechnya. Human Rights Watch has pieced together a timeline of how it all started, and who they believe to be responsible through interviews with men who were victims of the purge, Russian journalists and LGBT support groups who have tried to help victims.
The report describes a “patient zero” of the purge. In February, Chechen authorities detained a young man “at the time under the influence of a euphoria-inducing controlled substance.” While searching his phone, they found messages and photos that suggested to them that he was gay. Authorities interrogated and tortured him, and ultimately he revealed the identities of several of his gay friends whom he had messages from on his phone.
Police took this information to their superior, who then raised the issue with Magomed Daudov, (the speaker of the Chechen parliament and confidante of Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of the Chechen Republic), according to the report. Daudov, the report states, was instrumental in organizing the purge. Journalists from Novaya Gazeta, which first reported on the purge in April, and men who were detained, recalled seeing Daudov at two of the unofficial detention facilities.
They used the initial contacts obtained through interrogating the first man as an entry point into a network of men who they suspected of being gay, and whose sexual orientations was otherwise kept tightly under wraps.
“It was like a chain,” one former detainee told Human Rights Watch. “They get one person, go through his phone, torture him, make him name some others, get those others, and so it goes.”
“At night, when were left alone, I tried to convince the new arrivals to buck up, deny everything, not name anyone,” he recalled. “I kept telling them that the more people we name, the more information we give, the longer we’ll spend in this hell hole, the longer we’ll be tortured.”
The number of men who were detained by Chechen authorities isn’t clear, but it’s estimated to be over 100. The fates of the victims isn’t clear either. The report says that some men were “forcibly disappeared.” At least three were killed. They were outed to their families by Chechen authorities, who encouraged relatives to “carry our honor killings.”
Russia has federal authority over Chechnya, located in the majority-Muslim Northern Caucasus region, which functions semi-autonomously and is governed by strongman Kadyrov. The investigation by Russian authorities into the allegations — prompted by international outcry and pressure from rights groups — has the potential to create an awkward situation between Kadyrov and President Vladimir Putin. Putin appointed Kadyrov, and the two men are normally allies.
Since 2007, Kadyrov has pushed a religious fundamentalist agenda, which he says is appropriate given the region’s Islamic heritage. Part of that agenda includes the criminalization of “immoral” activities, like gambling, drinking, as well as the sanctioning of honor killings of women who commit adultery. Homosexuality is also seen as grounds for honor killings, which authorities reportedly treat with “understanding.”