Gay men are reportedly fleeing what they describe as a brutal and deadly campaign against them by authorities in the Muslim-majority Republic of Chechnya, an autonomous province in Russia.
The Agence France-Presse (AFP) report on gays escaping persecution in Chechnya comes after the Moscow-based newspaper Novaya Gazeta and LGBT activists revealed this month that “more than 100 men” confirmed or suspected of being homosexual had been sent to prison camps in the autonomous province where they were being tortured and killed.
Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, a key ally of Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, allegedly ordered the crackdown on homosexuals.
The Kadyrov administration has denied the claims saying, “You cannot arrest or repress [gay] people who just don’t exist in the republic.”
Nevertheless, AFP spoke to several victims who managed to escape the allegedly brutal campaign against gays in the Russian North Caucuses region’s Chechnya.
The victims spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
“In Chechnya, I had no choice but to lie or die,” a 20-year-old identified by the pseudonym Ilya told AFP.
The news outlet revealed:
After being beaten and tortured by men in military uniform in Russia’s Chechnya region, he fled to Moscow but still fears for his life — because he is gay.
He is now hiding out in a small house on the edge of Moscow with five other Chechen men after they escaped what they say is a brutal campaign against gay men by authorities in the Muslim region of Russia’s North Caucasus.
One of the victims noted that gays in Chechnya are not only in danger of persecution at the hands of authorities, but are also at risk of falling victim to “honor killings” by relatives for bringing shame to their family’s honor.
“If any of my relatives realize I’m gay, they won’t hesitate a minute before killing me,” a 28-year-old identified by the alias Nortcho told AFP. “And if they don’t do it, they will get killed themselves for failing to uphold the family honor.”
The Moscow wing of a pro-gay NGO known as the Russian LGBT Network is helping gay people escape persecution by Chechen authorities.
Olga Baranova, the branch’s leader, told AFP that the organization receives “three or four requests for help each day,” noting that “nearly 20 people at risk have already moved to Moscow.”
“By helping me, the Network has handed me a reprieve — but they’ll find me in the end,” Ilya told AFP, later adding, “Some soldiers came to see my mother and told her I was gay. I’m terrified. I haven’t been able to sleep since I left.”
Consistent with the Islamic rules implemented in many Muslim-majority countries, coming out as a homosexual is “tantamount to a death sentence” in Chechnya, noted Novaya Gazeta.
Shariah law, the strict Islamic rules that govern all aspects of Muslim life, orders the execution of people who engage in homosexual acts. The mandate is deeply ingrained in Shariah, which draws on the Quran. Various Muslim scholars have also affirmed the death sentence imposed on gays by Shariah law.
“While casual homophobia is common in Russia, the problem is particularly acute in conservative Chechnya, where homosexuality is taboo and seen in many families as a moral failing that should be punished by death,” explains AFP.
Reports of persecution against gays in Chechnya has drawn ire from the international community.
On Monday, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said she was “disturbed by reports of kidnapping, torture, and murder of people in Chechnya based on their sexual orientation and those persecuted by association.”
“If true, this violation of human rights cannot be ignored – Chechen authorities must immediately investigate these allegations, hold everyone involved accountable, and take steps to prevent future abuses,” she added.
The office of Russia’s Prosecutor-General has reportedly opened an investigation into the reports of atrocities against gay people in Chechnya.