POLICE IN THE Russian state of Chechnya rounded up, beat and humiliated dozens of gay and bisexual men in an effort to “purge” them from Chechen society, according to a report released today by Human Rights Watch.
The report is based on interviews with men who say they were rounded up, as well as local journalists and rights organisations who documented the events.
“Men subjected to these gay purges have endured a gruesome ordeal in Chechnya,” said Graeme Reid, the director of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights program at Human Rights Watch.
The report claims that, beginning in the last week of February and lasting until the first week of April, men suspected of being gay were held in secret locations, tortured, humiliated, starved and forced to give information on other gay men.
Many are said to have fled the region in the wake of this spate of violence. It was claimed that others were sent to concentration camps where some were killed.
Those who survived this purge do not feel safe or secure, Reid said:
The men who survived Chechnya’s gay purge ordeal are caught between two fires: their well-grounded fears of official retaliation, and fear of violence from their own families.
One man, whose testimony is included in the report, said that he fears that he will be found by the authorities and punished despite having fled Chechnya.
“My life is ruined,” he said. “I cannot go back. And it’s not safe here either.
They have long arms and they can find me and the others anywhere in Russia, just give them time…
Russian officials are said to be actively investigating claims of a purge against gay men in Chechnya, reports the Guardian.
This, however, could put Putin on a collision course with Ramzan Kaydrov, the Kremlin-backed leader of Chechnya, who denied the claims that any such violence was occurring last month.
German chancellor Angela Merkel raised the issue of the anti-gay violence in Chechnya with Russian president Vladimir Putin earlier this month.
Merkel raised the “very negative reports” and said she had asked Putin to “use his influence to guarantee the rights of minorities.”
A few days later, Putin said he would personally “talk to the prosecutor-general and the interior minister” to ask them to help Kremlin rights ombudswoman Tatyana Moskalkova check the reports which have caused an international scandal.
Elena Milashina, a local journalist who broke the story of the anti-gay violence, said that “Moskalkova was impressed by the strength of the evidence and has spoken to Putin about it”.
The Kremlin had earlier that reports of violence against homosexuals in Chechnya had not been confirmed and that “phantom complaints” to the media should instead be taken to the police.
Protests took place in many countries, including in Ireland, against the treatment of gay men in Chechnya.
Organiser of the Dublin protest, Dearbhla Mealy said in a statement: “The religious and socially conservative region of Chechnya is attempting to purge its society of gay men and Russia is so far turning a blind eye and allowing it to happen.
We want to send a message that Ireland stands in solidarity with our community in Chechnya and we will not sit still as these human rights violations take place.