Over the last month, more than 100 men were arrested and detained in Chechnya on allegations of homosexuality. A Russian opposition newspaper, the Novaya Gazeta, reported that the order was given for a “prophylactic sweep” of the region and the mass round-up resulted in the murders of at least three men. The survivors were then put in ‘camps’ near the town of Argun.
Svetlana Zhakarova, a spokesperson for the Russian LGBT Network, spoke to the MailOnline saying, “Gay people have been detained and rounded up and we are working to evacuate people from the camps and some have now left the region. Those who have escaped said they are detained in the same room and people are kept altogether, around 30 or 40. They are tortured with electric currents and heavily beaten, sometimes to death.”
A spokesman for Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov called the reports “absolute lies and disinformation” going on to say that “You cannot detain and persecute people who simply do not exist in the republic.” He went on to say, “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.”
I suppose if you’re the kind of person who can dismiss the existence of 10% of all people everywhere, you’re the kind of person who can doublethink their way out of guilt over a concentration camp.
Equally disturbing was the dismissal of the initial story by the interior minister of the region, which broke on the first, as an April Fool’s joke.
In the opinion of Ekaterina Sokirianskaia, Russian project director for the International Crisis Group, it is anything but. She says it fits into a wider trend of violence against the LGBT community in Russia, a nation where even the discussion of homosexuality is taboo and so specific accounts are difficult to verify. She said, “It’s next to impossible to get information from the victims or their families, but the number of signals I’m receiving from different people makes it hard not to believe detentions and violence are indeed happening.”
I’m certainly more inclined to take her word over the lackeys of a dictator. When I say dictator I mean Ramzan Kadyrov, whose power is basically unchecked within the province. Chechnya’s relationship with Russia is complicated, but in the wake of two wars, Kadyrov was able to strike a deal with Moscow which would allow him and his private militia to govern with quasi-autonomy in the region while remaining part of the Russian Federation.
Chechnya is majority-Muslim, and Kadyrov himself is a devout Sunni who believes in polygamy, that women are the property of their husbands, the compulsory wearing of the hijab for women and honor killings. The society itself is rigidly religious and traditional, and militant homophobia runs rampant.
While I think the horror of internment camps for homosexuals speaks for itself, the reaction within Russia and indeed in the rest of the world has been essentially non-existent. The Russian government has not even made an official statement, nor taken any steps to investigate, limit or stop the inhumane treatment of homosexuals by the authorities in Chechnya.
It's not like the rest of free world was short on reasons to cut ties with Russia, but their inaction on this issue, on the placement of human being into concentrations camps for reasons of biology, is beyond negligence. This is a conscientious, willing action by the Russian state that condones the persecution, mutilation, and murder of people based on their sexuality.
While Chechnya is by far the most extreme example, the persecution extends into the rest of the Russian Federation. A report published by Vocativ cataloged the proliferations of storefront signs in Russian businesses which tell gay customers to stay away. The campaign began on a popular Russian social network and has become quite popular among businesses appealing to the traditionalists in Russian society.
Add that to the controversial 2013 “homosexual propaganda” law, and the recent move by the Kremlin to classify the image of ‘gay clown’ Putin as extremist material and the picture of LGBT rights in Russia becomes a little clearer. A spokesperson for Amnesty International said, “homophobia in Russia is not in decline; it’s actually broadly supported, including by the state.”
This is a state which condones the persecution of homosexuals, it condones their internment, their torture, their mutilation and their murder. If the leadership of any nation, particularly the United States and its allies, cannot find the fortitude to condemn these actions and take measures to prevent them, then I question their morality and ability to lead. I question the influence Russia really has in the White House. Tomahawk strikes aside, let’s see some real action against Russian oppression.
If, like me, you would like to see the U.S. government speak on these issues, there is hope – you can contact Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN. You can contact the Russian consulate directly. You can sign the Amnesty International petition to take action against these atrocities.
I recommend you do.