If you follow the news you’ll be aware of the horrific reports coming out of Chechnya (If you don’t you can learn more here and here). The concentration camps, arrests, beatings, torture, and murder of suspected gay men in the region is so appalling that it’s hard to believe it’s true. As I have done in the past with other situations, below I’ve summarised information and resources that I’ve found so that you can help, regardless of where you live.
Information to keep in mind from Upworthy:
1. The move to round up men suspected of being gay began with gay pride parades — an irrational threat to any homophobe.
GayRussia.ru, a gay rights group, had begun applying for permits in order to hold LGBTQ pride parades in many cities across Russia. The group didn’t expect any of the applications to be accepted under President Vladimir Putin’s notoriously anti-gay policies, of course (and, in fact, none of them were), but GayRussia.ru was planning to use the permit denials to build a civil rights case to take to the European Court of Human Rights in France.
Tragically, even talk of gay pride parades emboldened anti-LGBTQ law enforcement, and the move by GayRussia.ru galvanized authorities to push back against even an attempt at pursuing equality.
“In Chechnya, the command was given for a ‘prophylactic sweep,’” Novaya Gazeta reported. “And it went as far as real murders.”
Confirming the exact number of men affected by the “sweep,” however, is near-impossible at the moment.
2. Hard facts have been difficult to verify because the subject of gay rights is taboo in that region of the world.
Ekaterina Sokirianskaia, an International Crisis Group worker, told The Guardian that she’d been hearing concerning information about law enforcement targeting gay men in and around Grozny, Chechnya’s capital, for nearly two weeks prior to widespread news reports on the matter.
But proving any connections between missing persons and the authorities allegedly responsible for their disappearances has been difficult. The topic of gay rights is so taboo and frowned upon in Chechnya that people refuse to speak up — Sokirianskaia was only getting information from second- or third-hand accounts.
Still, Sokirianskaia knows the arrests and murders aren’t imaginary: “The number of signals I’m receiving from different people makes it hard not to believe detentions and violence are indeed happening,” she told The Guardian.
It doesn’t help that officials cannot be trusted with the truth either.
3. Often, gay people conveniently don’t “exist” in the very places they’re oppressed (or so we’re told to believe). That same myth is being sold in Chechnya.
Confronted with the alarming revelation that the government may be behind these disappearances, Alvi Karimov, a spokesperson for Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, suggested the report by Novaya Gazeta is a fallacy, claiming gay people simply don’t exist in that region of Russia. And even if they did, he claimed, their own families would have fixed the issue.
“You cannot detain and persecute people who simply do not exist in the republic,” Karimov said in a statement, according to Radio Free Europe. “If there were such people in Chechnya, the law-enforcement organs wouldn’t need to have anything to do with them because their relatives would send them somewhere from which there is no returning.”
If this specific tactic of deflecting reality seems familiar, it may be because former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad infamously told an audience at Columbia University in 2007 that Iran doesn’t “have homosexuals, like in your country,” when asked about Iran’s crackdown on LGBTQ rights. Kadyrov’s lie has been told before.
Considering who one of the Chechen leader’s dear friends is, however, this news maybe isn’t quite as shocking as it should be. Which brings us to…
4. Kadyrov, head of the Chechen Republic, is a close ally and friend of Putin, who has a heinous track record on LGBTQ rights.
While Chechnya is technically part of Russia, it operates independently in some ways under Kadyrov, a “vulgar, vicious, and very rich” ally to — and political instrument used by — Putin, The Guardian explained. Kadyrov is like a son to Putin, and Putin is one of Kadyrov’s idols.
In 2013, Russia passed vague but far-reaching legislation that banned “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” — a major step backward for LGBTQ rights advocates. According to Human Rights Watch, the law legalized discrimination against queer Russians and encouraged violence spurred by homophobia. Anti-LGBTQ hate crimes spiked in the lead-up to and aftermath of the bill’s passing.
It makes sense that Kadyrov may try to replicate Putin’s disturbing crackdown on gay rights in his own territory.
There are things you can do, however.
Things You Can Do To Help
Support groups on the ground
Give to organisations like the Russian LGBT Network , who are helping gay men escape Chechnya right now. You can also reach out to the Russian LGBT Network via their hotline email address to see if there is any help needed: email@example.com.
Contact your local representatives
Whether you’re contacting a local MP or your state representatives in the US, pick up the phone, post a letter, send an email and urge them to speak up on the behalf of the global LGBT community.
Contact the Russian Embassy in your country
Send letters, make phone calls, take to Facebook and tell them the brutalisation of gay men will not be tolerated. Or email the Russian embassy in your country with a personal appeal to start an investigation.
The contact details for England are as follows:
Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7229 6412
Post: 6/7 Kensington Palace Gardens, London, W8 4QP
Contact your UN ambassador
Contact Ambassador Nikki Haley if you are in the US asking her to condemn Chechen attacks on LGBTQ men and investigate reports. Or if you are in the UK, contact Matthew Rycroft.
Lobby LGBTQ dating apps
There is also a petition you can sign which calls on Grindr and Hornet to send an automated message to Russian/Chechen users in the area warning them of potential risks to their personal safety.
Stay informed and stay loud
Learn about geopolitics, Russia and Chechnya aren’t the same. Don’t circulate or promote fake news. It doesn’t help. [I have an article about identifying fake news here]
Don’t forget. Often spikes in international interest fade away but atrocities remain and continue. Keep interested and concerned, continue to inform yourself about the brutality.
Share information over social media using #CloseTheCamps and #Chechnya. You can tweet to Prosecutor General at @Genproc and the Investigatory Committee of Russia at @sledcom_rf demanding to start an investigation into mass torture and murder of LGBTQ people in the Chechen Republic. You can also tag/call out the Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, on Instagram, his handle is @kadyrov_95.
Share information with people in your lives who might not know what’s going on. Reach out to LGBTQ organisations in your country to see what they are doing on the ground on this issue and attend upcoming protests or events, or organise your own.
Avoid stereotypes that portray Putin as feminine or characterise what’s happening in terms of race [or religion. Many reports mention Chechnya’s relationship to Islam – remember this does not represent the entire religion or those that practise it].
I hope some of this helps you, feel free to let me know if there’s anything else I should add here.