It’s been a year since the world learned of gay and bisexual men being rounded up and detained in camps in Chechnya.
Over a hundred men are reported to have been caught up in this homophobic purge, which was ordered by the Chechen authorities. Men were bundled into the back of vehicles and taken to “concentration camps” where they were locked up, beaten and tortured.
Some of these men never made it out alive. This month marks one year since the start of the purge and last weekend protests across the world took place to mark the anniversary.
Demonstrations took place in front of the Russian Embassy in Mexico City, and crowds gathered in Munich and Rome to show their solidarity with victims.
At the Russian Embassy in Mexico City, we demand #JusticeForChechnya! #CDMX pic.twitter.com/gVnqR2Feza
— All Out (@AllOut) April 7, 2018
Here in London, organisations such as All Out, Amnesty International and the Peter Tatchell
Foundation united to make clear that they are still looking for answers.
Great to see such support at #RussianEmbassy for #JusticeForChechnya. Our thoughts are with all those who have been persecuted! @AllOut @MatthewBeard14 @PeterTatchell @AmnestyUK_LGBT. The @rulgbtnet has helped 116 gay men escape violence. #solidarity pic.twitter.com/kVse1siOUU
— Peter Tatchell Fdn (@PT_Foundation) April 7, 2018
Reports of a so-called “anti-gay purge” taking place in the Chechen Republic began to trickle
throughout the international LGBT community in April 2017.
Russian LGBT Network first raised the alarm that gay and bisexual men were being abducted and detained by Chechen authorities.
Then more reports came through about Chechen authorities creating what were described as “concentration camps” for gay and bisexual men. A term that bears sinister resemblance to events the world thought were confined to the history books.
It is alleged that one such camp was set up in the Chechen town of Argun, a half-an- hour drive away from the Chechen capital Grozny.
Victims of the purge claim that they were taken to a disused police facility in the town, where they were detained against their will and beaten.
The Argun facility is one of many locations where gay and bisexual men claim they were held captive.
With a wave of homophobia raging like wild fire across Chechnya, more and more men were being subjected to these barbaric acts.
Since the start of the purge, former detainees have come forward to share their stories, with reports of others fleeing to neighbouring Russia and even seeking political refuge as far as Canada. The exact number of gay and bisexual men affected by these events may never be clear.
It is thought that over one hundred men were taken to such camps, with an estimated 20 men never making it out alive. Given that some men still missing, we may never know the true extent of this anti-gay crackdown.
Among those reported as missing amid the Chechen purge, is Russian pop singer Zelim Bakaev. He was last seen being bundled into the back of a vehicle in Chechnya and it is believed that he was abducted and murdered by Chechen authorities.
Bakaev still hasn’t been found. His mother did file a report with Chechnya’s police, but they have not opened a criminal investigation into his disappearance.
In addition to abduction, Chechen authorities are also accused of ‘outing’ gay and bisexual men to their families.
This sparked further violence and social isolation for gay and bisexual men living in Chechnya, with many having no other option than to flee the country.
It is also thought that some victims were abducted or murdered by their own families. The accusations of this anti-gay purge was put to Chechnya’s president, Ramzan Kadyrov, who continues to deny the claims. In fact, Kadyrov says there are no LGBT people living in Chechnya. Although Chechnya is part of the Russian Federation, Kadyrov has the freedom to lead his country as
Chechnya has mirrored the views of the Russian Federation when it comes to LGBT rights, with many of Russia’s anti-LGBT laws applying in the country. Same-sex sexual activity, for instance, is illegal and punishable by imprisonment, torture and even execution. Ramzan Kadyrov remains a notorious political figure, who has curated a public image of strength and masculinity.
His Instagram account was filled with images of him practising martial arts or working out at the gym. The account was blocked by the social media giant in late 2017, as a result of US sanctions.
Kadyrov is an ally of the Russian president Vladamir Putin. The Russian leader did order an investigation into the alleged anti-gay crackdown but to no avail. With still so many questions left unanswered, the driving force from the human rights community remains strong.
Speaking at a protest in London last Saturday, the Executive Director of All Out, Matthew Beard said: “We all know that some of those sent to these camps did not make it out alive.” Beard then described the Ramzan Kadyrov, as a “violent homophobe.”
“Russia has shamefully failed to conduct a meaningful enquiry,” Beard went on to say. “It is utterly shameful and unacceptable.”
Matt made clear that the fight for the rights of LGBT Chechens was far from over. His organisation, All Out, in addition to partner organisations continue to advocate for an investigation into the events that took place last year.
Russia’s influence regarding LGBT rights in this part of the world remains strong. Alongside the events in Chechnya, last year also saw authorities in Azerbaijan rounding up and detaining LGBT people. Yet another example of a state-driven attack against the freedom of LGBT people.
Gay men in Belarus, another Russian neighbour, didn’t escape its anti-LGBT stance when police raided and detained men in gay nightclubs.
Today there are still some Chechens who remain unaccounted for and it is unclear if further answers will be provided regarding these events. What is clear, however, is that Chechnya remains an extremely hostile environment for LGBT people.
In fact, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office advises against all travel to Chechnya, due to current concerns about safety there.
Activists are calling upon the wider international human rights community to come forward to demand for an independently led inquiry to take place. Until then, the families and friends of those still missing await with anger and a burning determination for justice.