Russia’s Novaya Gazeta newspaper has asked the Kremlin for protection after Chechen clerics threatened “retribution” for a report on the torture and murder of gay men.
The Novaya Gazeta story claimed that authorities in the autonomous, heavily Muslim Republic of Chechnya ordered a “prophylactic” sweep of gay men, sending over a hundred of them to prison camps where they were beaten, electrocuted, forced to sit on bottles – and, in at least three cases, killed.
The report stated that gay men were sold out to the authorities by their own relatives, who sometimes perpetrate “honor killings” against them. The Chechen authorities were also said to be using social media to lure gay men into phony dates so they could be arrested.
The allegations were based, in part, by prisoners who escaped from the camps. Human-rights organizations are pressuring the Russian government to investigate the camps.
Reuters reports that Moscow is not in a good humor about the Chechnya situation since critics charge that the Kremlin allows Chechens to run their republic as a “feudal fiefdom” provided they suppress “separatist and radical Islamist sentiment.”
Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov dismissed the Novaya Gazeta report as an “absolute lie” because, he insisted, there are no gay men in Chechnya. Therefore, “nobody can detain or harass anyone who is simply not present in the republic.”
The Muslim clerics of Chechnya declared Novaya Gazeta had “insulted the dignity and Islamic faith of Chechen men and society” and resolved that “retribution will catch up with the hate-mongers wherever and whoever they are and with no statute of limitations.”
That is the language interpreted by the newspaper’s editors as a threat of violence, prompting them to ask the Kremlin for protection. The editors filed a formal complaint with the Russian Federation Prosecutor General’s office on April 8 but have yet to receive a response.
The Committee to Protect Journalists notes there were over fifteen thousand attendees at the mosque meeting which produced the threat of retribution. One of them was presidential adviser Adam Shahidov, who referred to Novaya Gazeta reporters as “enemies of our faith and our motherland” and swore “vengeance” against them.
“Novaya Gazeta has lost six of its journalists to contract-style murders in direct retaliation for their work over the past two decades,” the CPJ adds. “Two of them, Anna Politkovskaya and Natalya Estermirova, were known for investigating human rights abuses in Chechnya and the North Caucasus region, which remains the most dangerous assignment in the Russian Federation. Both Politkovskaya’s and Estermirova’s murders remain unsolved.”
The Kremlin has insisted it has no “reliable information about any problems” in Chechnya. However, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov added that “we are against any actions that could pose a threat to the safety of lives of journalists.” He suggested that the Chechen authorities could file charges against Novaya Gazeta if they believe “slanderous materials” have been published.
On Friday, former Vice President Joe Biden called on the Trump administration to raise the issue of gay persecution in Chechnya “directly with Russia’s leaders.”
“The human rights abuses perpetrated by Chechen authorities and the culture of impunity that surrounds them means that these hate crimes are unlikely to ever be properly investigated or that the perpetrators will see justice,” said Biden.