Alvi Karimov, press secretary to Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov, responded to Amnesty International‘s annual report, which accused Chechen authorities of abusing the rights of local gay people.
The report detailed state-sponsored discrimination against gays in Russia generally, and also gross abuses targeting gays in Chechnya. Amnesty cited victim and eyewitness accounts of persecution, including the torture and murder of gay men in the Chechen capital Grozny and other parts of the republic, that were first published by the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta in April 2017.
The newspaper detailed the plight of more than 100 who were detained and the deaths of at least three Chechen men accused of being homosexual. According to the newspaper, the detentions followed a formal request made in March 2017 to hold a gay-parade, which sparked public protests in the republic, where the newspaper reports even an accusation of being gay can lead to execution.
Facing media coverage of the roundup of gays, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov reported on the situation in the region to Vladimir Putin in late April 2017. He told the Russian president that the information about multiple arrests, torture and killings was “a provocation.”
Kadyrov claimed the only person reportedly murdered by Chechen law enforcement was, in fact, safe and in his own home, and the ‘coming outs’ were paid for “as a money-making campaign.”
Kadyrov denied any evidence of any detentions in the locations indicated in the Novaya Gazeta publications.
Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov said he has “no reliable information” of detentions of gay men in Chechnya.
While Grozny continues to deny not only persecution and torture of gay men, other evidence has emerged. In October, a gay man, Maxim Lapunov, said in Moscow that he had escaped torture in Chechnya. At a news conference organized by Novaya Gazeta, Leptunov said he was forced to name other gay men and was beaten for being a “Russian who came to Chechnya to corrupt Chechens.”
Amnesty International responded to a request for comment on the statement by Alvi Karimov, the spokesman for the head of Chechnya, denying the very existence of gay men in Chechnya.
“This is not the first time the Chechen government officials accuse human rights activists in ‘conspiring with the West’ and label them as ‘enemies of the people’,” the human rights group told Polygraph.info.
It added that some Chechen leaders like Magomed Daudov, speaker of the Chechen parliament, have even gone so far as to call for the death penalty for human rights activists.
Amnesty also said, in response to Karimov’s suggestion it cooperated with the “Western intelligence agencies,” it “never works or coordinates its work with any of the intelligence services” and conducted its own “independent research into the situation of gay men in Chechnya and used proven information from other human rights NGOs (non-governmental organizations).”
Meanwhile, the daughter of slain Chechen human rights activist Natalia Estemirova, who would have turned 60 today but was murdered in July 2009 while working on working on “extremely sensitive” cases of human rights abuses in Chechnya, has also commented on the plight of gays in the republic.
“It is unsurprising that Chechen authorities continue to deny any allegations of the gay purge,” Lana Estemirova wrote in a letter to Polygraph.info. “The reasoning behind persecution was harrowing — it seems that upon discovering the existence of gay community in Chechnya, the officials and police aimed to break those men physically and emotionally, purely out of deeply rooted prejudices and hatred. Chechnya is a very conservative, patriarchal republic and Kadyrov’s regime controls every aspect of its social and political life without any distinction between the private and the public. Gay men insult Kadyrov and his henchmen on an existential level and threaten his vision of masculinity – hence he cannot even bring himself to say the word ‘gay’.”
Estemirova urges a full examination of the episode.
“We must do everything in our power and urge the Russian government to conduct a proper investigation and grant the victims appropriate protection if they want to testify. We have to continue making Kadyrov uncomfortable,” she wrote.
The Russian non-governmental organization “Russian LGBT Network” said it opened a hot line for gay victims in Chechnya, and reported evacuating over 106 people out of Chechnya and helping provide asylum at European embassies.