WASHINGTON – More than 14 LGBT people were targeted by Chechen police on suspicion of homosexuality in the last two months, some detained for weeks in a government basement, and subjected to torture during what the Russian LGBT Network calls a “new wave of mass persecutions.”
Earlier this week, Igor Kochetkov, the executive director of the Russian LGBT Network, filed a complaint with the country’s investigations committee that provided details about the 14 people who were detained between Dec. 6, 2018 and Jan. 22, 2018.
Kochetkov released the locations of detention centers believed to be holding LGBT people. The list included a regional police station and a basement of a Ministry of Interior building.
“The queer community in Chechnya is small, so if one was reported by their family member, they would be tortured to release the information of other gay people,” said Lyosha Gorshkov, the co-president of the Russian LGBT Network. “Many were kept in a basement for a couple of weeks and subjected to humiliation, torture, rape, electric shock. Some reportedly committed suicide.”
Upon release, detainees have been stripped of their identification cards, which are required to leave the country and navigate public transportation in Chechnya, according to the LGBT Network’s office based in Moscow.
The Russian LGBT Network, a St. Petersburg-based NGO, works with other NGOs and regional lawyers to corroborate the detentions, but the task has proved difficult because of strict information controls imposed by the Chechen government.
Gorshkov further explained that people who are released are given to family members who are then expected to carry out extrajudicial “honor killings.”
In a 2017 HBO interview, Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of the Chechen Republic, condoned the practice of “honor killing” LGBT citizens in response to questions about the first wave of gay purges.
“If we have [gay] people here, I’m telling you officially their relatives won’t let them be because of our faith, our mentality, customs, traditions,” said Kadyrov in the interview. “Even if it’s punishable under the law, we would still condone it.”
The Stitching Justice Initiative, a Dutch human rights NGO, reported in 2017 that 36 honor killings have been recorded since 2008. The records were difficult to obtain, according to their report, but the NGO was able to identify the key cultural factor motivating the killings.
“They are motivated not by tradition, custom or the norms of Sharia law, but rather by the arbitrary and self-styled ambitions of individuals and clans,” indicated the SJI report. “The practice is borne out of and incited by the pressure of public opinion, gossip, rumors and slander.”
The first round of purges began in late 2017, according to a December report published by the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe — a security-focused intergovernmental organization.
In 2017, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favor of three LGBT activists who claimed that Russia’s anti-gay laws abused their rights to assembly and expression. One of these laws codified in 2013, the “gay propaganda law,” prohibits any promotion of homosexuality for fear of influencing minors.
Despite the ruling, Russian President Vladimir Putin took little action to investigate the accusations, according to Tanya Lokshina, the associate director of Europe & Central Asia at Human Rights Watch.
“Even though about 100 individuals were targeted in the first purge in 2017, there was no investigation whatsoever,” said Lokshina. “The climate of non-accountability made it possible for another round anti-gay purges.”
Kochetkov’s complaint about the 14 detentions included the name of one individual, Bekhan Yusupov, who was granted asylum in France in 2017 after the first wave of LGBT purges. According to the co-president of the Russian LGBT Network, Yusupov returned to Chechnya at the beginning of January. Soon after visiting home, he went missing again.
The current situation has raised concerns in official Washington with some lawmakers, including Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa. and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., criticizing the actions.
“It’s still important for the U.S. Senate to put a spotlight on human rights abuses,” Toomey said. “That spotlight alone can sometimes help alleviate circumstances of people who are being oppressed in other parts of the world.”