May 2, 2017

Russians Protesting Gay Persecution in Chechnya




The police detained gay rights activists during a May Day rally in St. Petersburg on Monday.CreditAnatoly Maltsev/European Pressphoto Agency 

MOSCOW — The Russian police detained about 20 gay rights protesters on Monday, among them the leader of a group that is helping gay men escape from the southern province of Chechnyawhere they face abuse, including torture.
The protesters held a demonstration on the sidelines of a May Day parade in St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city.
The treatment of gays in Chechnya has prompted protests outside Russia, but the demonstration on Monday was the first significant action inside the country, and it ended, perhaps predictably, with arrests. Russia has strict rules on political activity in public.
Some protesters lay on the pavement draped in a rainbow flag and the flag of Chechnya. Others carried placards objecting to the mistreatment of gay men in Chechnya, news footage showed.

“They even deny they exist and deny the problem exists,” Andrei Potapov, one of the protesters, told Euronews of Chechen officials. A spokesman for the regional leader, Ramzan A. Kadyrov, told The New York Times this month that Chechnya had no gay men.

It was not immediately clear why the police had detained the activists. Among them was Igor Kochetkov, director of the Russian LGBT Network, a group that has been providing gay men from Chechnya with safe houses elsewhere in Russia.

Tens of thousands of people in Russia attend May Day parades, which are intended to highlight labor issues and defend the rights of workers. In Moscow, Gennady A. Zyuganov, the leader of the Russian Communist Party, gave a speech in front of a poster of Joseph Stalin.

Fontanka, a St. Petersburg news portal, reported that the police had detained 18 people under a law against “violations by participants of a public activity of the rules of its implementation.”

That implied that the gay rights message had not been approved for the pro-labor marches, though the Fontanka report did not say precisely how the protesters had violated the parade rules.

Videos posted online showed activists carrying rainbow flags, and then police officers bundling some of them into a van. Reached by cellphone in jail, Mr. Kochetkov said about 20 people had been arrested, Reuters reported.

The Russian LGBT Network, Mr. Kochetkov’s group, has created an emergency volunteer network to help gay men escape Chechnya, operating a hotline and safe houses.

Even by the standards of Chechnya, a small region tormented by two brutal wars for independence in the post-Soviet period, the mass arrests of gay men seem brazen.

To counteract popular support for an Islamist insurgency that erupted after the Soviet breakup, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has granted wide latitude to the regional leader, Mr. Kadyrov, to co-opt elements of the Islamist agenda, including an intolerance of gays. Local officials in Chechnya and federal officials in Moscow have denied that gay men are being abused.

“You should ask those devils to apologize and kneel before the Chechen people for insults, humiliation and accusation,” Mr. Kadyrov told RBK television last month, speaking of Russian journalists who have documented the arrests and abuse of gay men.

“The best way to lead a healthy lifestyle is to have the right orientation,” he said. “God created us men, women and animals. Have you seen any religious pronouncement that would say you should marry a cat, for example?”

Earlier this year, to find closeted gay men, the authorities began to pose on social networking sites as gay men looking for dates and detained the people who responded, according to Chechen gay men interviewed last month.

Novaya Gazeta, a Russian independent newspaper, reported that more than 100 gay men had been arrested and that at least three had died. Human Rights Watch has corroborated that conclusion based on its own interviews with victims.

By 
New York Times

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