Showing posts with label Chechen. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Chechen. Show all posts

October 25, 2019

The Time When I Came Out to The Chechen Head of Police



One of the most surreal nights of my life started at a beauty parlor in Grozny. This city is the capital of the Chechen Republic -- part of the Russian Federation -- and the focus of what many are calling a gay purge over the last two years.
The abuses had slipped from the headlines, but over the course of a year, rights groups had told us that the persecution has continued and that authorities had waited for the backlash to subside. But the torture and imprisonment had never really stopped.
Years of war and a rather vague process for actually meeting relevant officials left us wondering how much we would actually see going to Chechnya. But we wanted to take the chance, and so, after meeting in Moscow, our team took the three-hour flight to Grozny. As is so often the case in my work, I found myself in a place where the system seemed unpredictable at best. 
Chechnya is a notorious police state, viewed by the rest of Russia as a totalitarian regime where the opposition isn't tolerated under strongman Ramzan Kadyrov. Authorities are accused of arresting LGBTQ people, often having entrapped them in the first place, and subjecting them to beatings, electric shock, waterboarding, and other abuses. The authorities deny all this and have famously said gay people don’t even exist -- part of the reason I later thought it would be valid to bring up my own sexuality. I am gay.
We were advised to speak to Chechnya's "human right's official," and our surprise that such a position would even exist continued when we saw the building in which her office was located.
At a strip mall in central Grozny, along a corridor of hairdressers and nail salons, sits the small and unassuming office of Heda Saratova.
A former human rights campaigner herself, she now deals with social issues on behalf of the Chechen state, mostly focused on conducting a government campaign against radicalization.
After we waited two hours for her to arrive, Saratova appeared and led us inside. We repeated our desire to meet a representative from the security services and to visit a police site.
"Why didn’t you say so," she said. "I will make two calls."
She made the calls, speaking into the phone quietly. When she hung up, we asked her who she had spoken to.
"General Apti Alaudinov, head of the Chechen police," she said. "He’ll be here in 20 minutes."
Yes, we thought. But that will never happen, surely.
To our great surprise, I walked the general just 20 minutes later, wearing a full uniform. Saratova, this self-effacing woman could certainly pull some strings.
PHOTO: ABC News James Longman spoke with Apti Alaudinov, the head of police in Chechnya, a Russian republic that has allegedly purged LGBTQ people over the last two years. James Longman
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This was quite a moment because Alaudinov is in charge of Chechnya's more than 10,000 police officers. What's more, he's on a U.S. sanctions list for human rights violations and it’s his police force that's been accused of torturing and imprisoning gay people.
One of the most important men in the country wanted to spend the evening with us and he seemed delighted at the attention.
"Yes, of course, you can interview me," Alaudinov exclaimed. "We have nothing to hide."
Out on the street, Alaudinov launched into a tour, leading us down Grozny’s freshly rebuilt central street. Everyone recognized him. Young men would stand to attention and bow as we walked past. Mothers strolling with children for the evening would stop and point, whispering to one another.
"You see how peaceful Grozny is?" Alaudinov said with a large smile across his face. "Why do you call it a police state?"
Occasionally, with all the bravado of a benevolent dictator, he would suddenly stop a passing local and say, "You, tell them how safe it is." The rather shocked passers-by would look at me wide-eyed and nod quickly before scuttling off.
"There is a small possibility that a man in uniform would elicit the right answer," I said, prompting more laughter from Alaudinov.
Grozny is a revelation; two brutal wars had totally flattened it. But with huge investment from Russia -- and increasingly, parts of the Persian Gulf -- it is turning into a modern city. An obsession with flashing neon lights turns nighttime Grozny into something of an amusement park, but with families sitting out, eating and drinking in the warm evening air. It was as the general said: a peaceful scene.
But under the surface, all is not as it seems. And I wanted to challenge the general further about the crackdown on LGBTQ people.
"We shall have dinner!" Alaudinov exclaimed next.
At a restaurant nearby, a startled waitress subtly removed a "reserved" sign from a table at a window and offered Alaudinov the place. Sushi appeared for him very soon after. Our chicken not quite so fast.
What followed was an hour or so of mostly listening to him speak. His love for horses. His war record. The brothers he lost in the fighting. And then, out of nowhere, he stopped and said, "You know, there is a question I have been wanting to ask. Is one of you gay?" 
There was stunned silence, like a moment in a spy movie when the villain reveals his trap. We were not expecting this twist.
The team turned to me, their eyes asking if I'd tell him now, later or not at all. I spoke quickly, laughing, "None of us! Why do you think that?"
"I just don't understand why you are interested in this issue," he replied.
It was as if one of us had to be gay, because why else would anyone care? A producer, John, quickly diverted attention, telling Alaudinov about his gay cousin. But earlier, his views on gay people had been made clear. No, they weren't rounding them up, because Chechnya just doesn't have gay people.
"For us it’s completely crazy that one of us could be gay," Alaudinov said. "Seriously! Ask any Chechen, 'Do you have any gays in your family?' He will punch you. Why? Because to him it is an insult."
We really did not expect him to ask if one of the team were gay. And I certainly had no intention of saying anything. But that moment at dinner made me wonder if it might be possible to eventually tell him.
He may of course have already known. You wouldn’t need the mechanisms available to you in a security state to just google my name. But we didn’t think so, because our meeting had been so hastily arranged.
Seeing that he was enjoying himself, we decided to try our luck. Any possibility of a visit to a prison? We were prodding the tiger. So far, he was enjoying it. It was clear to us he saw this as a PR opportunity of sorts. But he was opening up about a world few have seen.
And so, at close to 11 p.m., we were bundled out of the restaurant and into his car. We were heading to a police station.
Because Chechen officials totally deny the accounts of police brutality toward gay people, we did not expect to see something incriminating or necessarily much at all. But as we swept into the parade ground and we were met by 50 or so armed commandos, all standing to attention.
As we stood in front of the spectacle, I asked him what he'd say to human rights campaigners who say men like these are responsible for atrocities.
"There are 10,500 policemen here," Alaudinov said. "Can you find me one state in the world where a policeman hasn’t committed some kind of crime."
"People may not like us, but nobody can disagree that we cannot maintain our republic in order and stability," he continued. "We are the most effective defenders of security in any state."
It wasn't exactly a denial. But as he stroked a cat that apparently lives at the station (have I mentioned how surreal all this was?), we asked to go inside.
I’ve definitely had some awkward coming out moments in my life. But I don’t think any can compare to telling a man who is the head of a police force accused of torturing hundreds of LGBTQ people that I’m gay.
We made our way to the prison block, and by this time, we had amassed a small following of armed guards and other officials: a bigger audience for the general's one-man show.
PHOTO: ABC News James Longman toured a prison with Apti Alaudinov, the head of police in Chechnya, a Russian republic that has allegedly purged LGBTQ people over the last two years. James Longman 
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As we walked, I gradually got the sense that it might be ok to tell him I’m gay. I asked the others quietly. "I think I’m going to tell him guys, are you OK with that?" They were.
And so, as we stood in the cell, I said, "Do you remember earlier when you asked if one of us was gay? What if I told you I was gay?"
An eternity passed as I waited for the translation. It didn’t seem to register. Strangely, he asked, "How does it work?"
I could feel the guards shifting behind the camera. John later told me he heard them all whispering to each other.
Alaudinov was doing his best to make it seem like it didn’t matter to him.
"There is no problem. Nobody has any issues with you. You are a guest. Come here as a guest and leave from here as a guest," he said. "You don’t understand something: You can say anything about us -- any horror stories -- but I, as [the] head of Chechen Police, I don’t have a goal to see who you are and what your sexual orientation is. I am not interested to know it. It’s your life and you should live however you want. But at the same time, don’t teach us how we have to live."
Behind a nervous smile, I told him I was scared to tell him because of what we had heard goes on in these prisons. My heart was racing, and so, instinctively, I took his hand and placed it on my chest. All it did was make him laugh.
And so there I found myself, trying to smile as Chechnya’s police chief had his arm around me, his exuberant laugh ringing off the walls of the cell.
The only thing I could really think of doing now was leaving. As we walked the corridors, I could feel the eyes of Alaudinov's men on me. He insisted on driving us back to our hotel, so it was an opportunity for the conversation to continue.
I told him that this wasn’t about me — those young men had sat across from me crying, telling me their stories of what had happened to them. He repeated his denials and said this was part of a plot by people who weren’t Chechen in order to gain refugee status abroad.
I think for Alaudinov, it really didn’t matter to him that I was gay. In fact, I think that perhaps it reaffirmed his own values to him: that Chechnya has a superior culture, and that the West has allowed homosexuality to weaken ours.
I told him my sexuality because perhaps on some level I thought that I could shift something in his mind and challenge his perceptions about gay people.
But as we sat in the parking lot of our hotel, I said to him, "We have spent the afternoon [and] evening together. We’ve shared a meal. You’ve been very welcoming, you’ve shown us around. Do you think I am less of a man than you?"
The smiles were gone. He turned to me with his face illuminated in the street lamp's orange glow, and said simply, "I will tell you honestly, I wouldn’t like you to be my friend."
ABC News

July 27, 2019

A Gay Man Held Prisoner in Chechen Lives To Tell






BY KATY STEINMETZ 
8:00 AM EDT
It was just after lunchtime on the day Amin Dzhabrailov was taken. A woman who was about to get married had come to the salon in the Chechen capital of Grozny where he worked, and the two were happily chatting as he colored her hair. Then, he recalls, three men in uniform barged in, asking for him by name. Soon, Dzhabrailov was being hauled outside, handcuffed and thrust into the back of a car. It was hot. He felt like he couldn’t breathe. As the car took off, “my heart stopped,” he says.
Though the three men didn’t explain why they had come, it soon became clear, as they took Dzhabrailov’s phone, demanded his password and started scouring the device for messages and photos that would prove he was guilty of something considered deeply shameful in the conservative, predominantly Muslim republic: being gay. Dzhabrailov doesn’t recall how long the car ride lasted, but he does recall his overriding fear. “The door is going to open,” the 27-year-old tells TIME, “and I’m going to die.”
Dzhabrailov is one of at least dozens of men who were detained and tortured in an anti-gay “purge” that took place in Chechnya in 2017, according to news reportshuman rights organizations and European agencies. He is also one of the first to go on the record about his experience and reveal his identity in the media, though he fears retaliation against himself and his family. 
Despite international attention and outcry that followed the 2017 purge — including calls for Russian officials to investigate reported lawlessness and misbehavior among Chechen law enforcement — human rights organizationssay another anti-gay sweep took place in late 2018 and early 2019. Dzhabrailov, who fled to Canada from Russia after his detainment, is going public now because he wants to draw attention to the ongoing persecution of gay people in his homeland. “Each person matters. His rights matter,” Dzhabrailov says. 
It’s dangerous to tell his story. But two years in North America, including participation in New York City’s annual pride march this year, have helped him summon the courage to speak out. “It’s also dangerous not telling,” he says, “because this is going to continue.” 
Human rights groups and experts who have been keeping an eye on the Chechen situation express similar fears, and some say that what’s happening there is part of a broader trend. The rise of nationalism in many countries has dovetailed with the targeting of vulnerable minorities, even in countries like the United States that have seen civil rights for LGBTQ people shored up by lawmakers and courts: There has been an uptick in hate crimes against that demographic in the U.S. in recent years, with the majority targeting gay men. 
“What’s been reported in Chechnya is a crime against humanity,” says Lisa Davis, co-director of the Human Rights and Gender Justice Clinic at the CUNY School of Law. “And we see this as a pattern of practice, a wave of violence that’s been happening across the globe.” When events like those in Chechnya fail to lead to consequences such as international condemnation, even amid widespread publicity, she says, “it sends the message that such persecution is tolerated.” 
Chechen officials have denied such crackdowns occurred. One government spokesperson said it wasn’t possible because gay people “don’t exist” in that part of Russia and if they did, their own relatives would be so ashamed that they “would have sent them to where they could never return.” The first individual to publicly challenge that stance was forced to recant and apologize on state TV in late 2017, after he came out in TIME and the state went after him and his relatives. 
“This is insane,” Dzhabrailov says. “Gay people are just everywhere.”
Dzhabrailov’s description of being detained, beaten, and forcibly outed to relatives who were encouraged to commit “honor killings” echoes testimony from other men who have fled Russia’s Northern Caucasus region in recent years.
The car carrying the slender, normally bubbly young man that day in March 2017 stopped somewhere outside Grozny at an unfamiliar building, and Dzhabrailov was led into one of many rooms lining a long hallway.
Amin Dzhabrailov in New York on June 30, 2019.
Amin Dzhabrailov in New York on June 30, 2019.

Heather Sten for TIME
According to Human Rights Watch, the roundups in 2017 were carried out by law enforcement officials and sanctioned by top-level Chechen authorities. Dzhabrailov says he doesn’t know who the several men there to receive him in the room were. (They seemed to be police who were “doing dirty work,” he says.) But he clearly remembers their actions. They sat him on a chair, he says, and demanded that he admit to being gay and name other gay men. At the same time, he says they kicked him with heavy boots and hit him with long plastic pipes, not wanting to touch him directly because of his sexual orientation. 
Though he admitted to being gay, Dzhabrailov says the violence escalated when he refused to name other gay men. The men took out a black box that Dzhabrailov presumed was a lie detector but that turned out to be a machine that delivered electric shocks. They attached wires to his fingers and put water on his body to help the current travel more effectively. “It was so painful, you’re just screaming, that’s all you could do,” he says. 
Eventually one of the men pulled out a gun, put it into Dzhabrailov’s mouth and threatened to kill him if he didn’t give up names. “At this moment, I myself, died,” he says. As he describes this part of his ordeal, he struggles through tears and an inability to find all the words he wants in English. “I was so lost,” he repeats. “I was so lost.”
After vowing to “keep working” on him, the men put Dzhabrailov into another room in the same building with about 25 other people in it. Some were men who were there because they were presumed to be gay, but there were also men and women who were apparently being detained for other reasons, he says. 
Agencies like the Council of Europe’s Committee For the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment have long accused officials in Chechnya of unlawfully detaining and mistreating individuals (and have criticized Russian authorities’ “persistent failure to improve the situation”). While LGBT people are one at-risk group, abuses have also been reported among alleged drug users, suspected terrorists and journalists.
Dzhabrailov says he was held for two weeks, cycling from the room where detainees were kept — and where he slept using a half-full plastic bottle as a pillow — to the room where he was beaten. There was torture “almost” every day. He and other gay men were also put to work washing cars and bathrooms and, one day, taken to clean garbage out of a lake. He describes it as being treated “like slaves.” 
Each man dreaded hearing his name called by the people running the facility, because that meant it was his turn to be beaten and pressed for information about other gay men. But it was also hard to see anyone else get called. “You’re going to hear his screams from the other side of the wall,” Dzhabrailov explains, adding that the captives tried to encourage each other not to name names.
After he survived the first few days, Dzhabrailov began to hope that he would be released. That hope was realized in a bittersweet fashion when, after about two weeks, he and the other men were told to give up phone numbers of their family members. In typical fashion, Dzhabrailov had never come out to his family. Given the strength of the taboo in Chechnya, being openly gay “is simply not an option” and “coming out of the closet would be suicidal,” says Tanya Lokshina, associate director for Human Rights Watch in Europe and Central Asia.
Family members of all the detainees were summoned and gathered in a room and were then told that their siblings and sons were gay, Dzhabrailov says. Three of his brothers came. The detainees were then brought in and officials gestured to them, saying “‘You should take away your shame,’” Dzhabrailov recalls. “It was directly meaning ‘You should kill your kids because they are gay and this is shame for Chechnya and for your family.’”
When Dzhabrailov left with his brothers, he wanted to celebrate. He was thrilled to be released and to see them again. But there was only silence as they walked away from the building. “Everything changed,” he says. “My body was blue, purple. My heart was broken. My life was broken. I lost family, friends, career. Everything.”
His family did not hurt him. But for several days after he was released, Dzhabrailov could only sleep during the daytime, for fear that officials would return under the cover of darkness and take him again. After five days, he decided he had to leave Chechnya. He couldn’t have a life there now that he had been exposed. A longtime friend who had moved to Moscow from Chechnya asked him to come stay, and so on his 25th birthday, Dzhabrailov left everything he knew behind. 
The friend was Viskhan, a 28-year-old who prefers to only use his first name and tells TIME through a translator that he had left the republic years earlier because he was also persecuted for being gay. In his case, this happened in a more typical but still brutal fashion: men who appeared to be police officials posed as someone interested in a romantic encounter on a dating app, and when Viskhan agreed to meet in person, he was beaten and threatened with a gun. 
Sometimes these assailants demand money from such victims. In Viskhan’s case, he says, they demanded that he message with another man through the dating site to gather information that could be used against that individual.
“You always feel guilty,” Viskhan says of being gay in Chechnya. And survivors like him continue to struggle with the trauma of having been targeted by powerful people. “When we sleep, we go to bed with fear and when we wake up, we wake up with fear,” he says. 
Viskhan, who is also now living as a refugee in Canada, had learned through friends in Chechnya that Dzhabrailov had “disappeared” for two weeks. In an interview with TIME, he describes the physical appearance of his friend when he arrived in Moscow as “horror,” motioning to his side, arms, hips and back to point out where Dzhabrailov was injured. When they saw each other at the airport, both began to cry. 
Dzhabrailov soon decided the Chechen diaspora in Moscow was too prevalent and close-knit for him to be safe. “There was this massive panic” at the time, Viskhan says, with gay Chechens fearful that officials would come after them and homophobic countrymen living in Moscow would be anxious to help. 
And so Dzhabrailov moved on to St. Petersburg. For a month, he stayed with another friend and never left the building, living with paranoia that he would be tracked down and, perhaps, killed this time.
Amin Dzhabrailov and Kimahli Powell, executive director of the Rainbow Railroad organization, watch the Pride parade in New York on June 30, 2019.
Amin Dzhabrailov and Kimahli Powell, executive director of the Rainbow Railroad organization, watch the Pride parade in New York on June 30, 2019.

Heather Sten for TIME
Eventually the friend convinced him to reach out to a group called the Russian LGBT Network, which was attempting to help victims of the Chechen purge. Many dreaded being hunted by their families as well, and the organization was looking for ways to get them out of Russia. After months of waiting and living in shelters provided by the group, Dzhabrailov finally found himself in a small room with someone who gave him hope that claiming asylum in another country might be possible. 
The Russian LGBT Network had contacted Rainbow Railroad, a Canada-based international organization that specializes in helping LGBT people escape countries where they face imminent danger because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. And the executive director, Kimahli Powell, had traveled to Russia to interview Chechen men who wanted to leave, a standard part of the organization’s vetting process.
It was nearing midnight when Powell prepared to sit down with Dzhabrailov, who was his last interview of a long day. He recalls the young hairstylist being forthright and — in what appeared to be a means of creating some order among chaos — especially well-coiffed. After hearing his story, along with dozens of others on the trip, “we knew we had to get them out of the country,” Powell says. “The question became where.”
Though Rainbow Railroad is guarded about how it facilitates travel, the organization will say that it eventually resettled roughly 70 Chechen men in other countries, some victims of the purge and some with credible fears that they would be targeted. Some went to Belgium, some to the Netherlands, and many went to Canada. 
Dzhabrailov vividly remembers stepping off a plane in North America in July of 2017, four months after his abduction. “I felt like I came back home. I was feeling so calm,” he says, “like I left a dark room and opened up the door to the light.” 
Some months later, after Viskhan’s life was threatened by a Chechen man living in Moscow, the same organizations helped him flee too. 
When reports of the 2017 purge in Chechnya surfaced, it seemed like Russian officials would act. Investigations appeared to be getting underway but such efforts came to little, watchdogs say. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, a regional security organization that counts 57 states among its members, did its own investigation and released its findings in late 2018, concluding that the allegations of unlawful detentions and torture in Chechnya were credible. “[T]here is a problem of total impunity of the security forces” amid a “grave situation with regard to human rights,” it said.
Viskhan sees the crackdowns as part of wider oppression that has taken root in recent years. Kremlin-backed strongman Ramzan Kadyrov has kept the once rebellious region firmly under Moscow’s control for well over a decade. In exchange, the Kremlin has allowed him to rule Chechnya as what some reportshave described as a “personal fiefdom.” On his watch, women allegedly have been intimidated and shot with paintball guns for wearing clothes that Muslim men deemed immodest, for example.
“People gradually started having feelings of hate toward the modern way of life. The society saw that more and more people were free, freely expressing themselves,” Viskhan says of how the culture in Chechnya changed as he got older. “This manifested in hatred toward different ways of life.”
Experts on LGBT rights say that lawlessness — along with religion or conservative beliefs about gender norms — tends to be the common thread when it comes to identifying places where gay or transgender people are most at-risk. While the purges in Chechnya have been unusual in terms of their scale and severity, at least 68 countries have laws that criminalize same-sex relations, and persecution of LGBT individuals is not uncommon around the world. Countries such as UgandaEgyptBrunei and Iraq have all seen breakouts of anti-gay animus in recent years.
Rainbow Railroad has been seeing this wave in terms of the number of requests from people who want help leaving their home countries out of fear for their safety. In 2018, it received 1,300 such requests. This year, the organization had 1,500 requests by June. “It’s consistent story after story of just real horrific persecution,” Powell says.
Several factors limit how many people Rainbow Railroad can move each year. It is dependent on donations and the openness of host countries. There are some countries, like Syria, where the organization’s workers simply cannot develop safe routes of passage.
None of the roughly 70 Chechens that Rainbow Railroad relocated went to the United States. The situation required “a response that was more immediate and more robust than the United States was willing to do,” Powell says. In the hopes of furthering their work with the country — even under the Trump Administration, which pushed to limit the acceptance of refugees — both he and Dzhabrailov visited officials in Washington, D.C. last year. They met with staff from the State Department, the White House and Congress, and the Chechen refugee told his story while Powell tried to summon political will. “Did I leave with any promises? Absolutely not,” Powell says. But, he adds, “we’re playing a long game here.”
While Dzhabrailov is going public to help shine the international spotlight on what happened to men like him, he is also thinking about what life was like when he was a boy. He remembers how, as a young man, he heard about a Chechen man who was murdered because he was gay. Growing up, he lived in fear, adopting two personas — a straight one and a secret one, pursuing romance only in hidden locations and using fake names. His hope is that young gay men in Chechnya might come across his story today and see that there’s hope. “Even if you’re in trouble, you can get out,” he says, “and be free men, just free men.”
As for official denials that the purge took place, Dzhabrailov has few words to say. “The truth,” he says, “exists.”
Write to Katy Steinmetz at katy.steinmetz@time.com.

February 16, 2019

New Wave of Gay Persecution is Coming to Russia and Chechnya


Image result for new wave of gay abuse in chechnya


Russian authorities should investigate allegations of a new wave of anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persecution in Chechnya and take steps to protect rights defenders and journalists who expose abuses there, Human Rights Watch said today.

On January 14, 2019, a leading activist with the Russian LGBT Network, Igor Kochetkov, stated that the Network had received credible reports about a new wave of LGBT round-ups by authorities in Chechnya. On January 29, he filed a complaint with Russia’s chief investigative agency. On the day the complaint was filed, a YouTube video with explicit threats against Kochetkov began circulating on social media. On January 30, he filed a complaint about the threats, but there has been no action by the authorities either about the persecution in Chechnya or about the threats to Kochetkov.

“The threats against Igor Kochetkov are very serious and deserve a prompt reaction by the Russian authorities,” said Graeme Reid, LGBT rights program director at Human Rights Watch. “Given the danger LGBT people have been facing in Chechnya, the Interior’s Ministry’s lack of response is dangerous and unacceptable.”

The allegations of a new round of homophobic persecution and the threats against Kochetkov come after Chechen authorities had carried out a vicious large-scale anti-gay purge in spring 2017, during which local police rounded up and tortured around 100 men they suspected of being gay.

The Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, the European External Action Service, and the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum, among others, also have called for investigative authorities in Russia to ensure Kochetkov’s safety.

Kochetkov’s January 29 complaint alleged new unofficial detentions and torture of dozens of people in Chechnya because of their presumed sexual orientation. The complaint specified that at least 14 people were held unlawfully and tortured by police in Grozny, Chechnya’s capital. He provided the name of a presumably gay man allegedly killed by the police in January.

On the YouTube video that circulated in response, Ali Baskhanov, a leader of a pro-government group in Chechnya, calls Kochetkov a “son of the devil” and a “beast,” tells him to stay away from Chechnya, and warns him that Chechnya could become his “final stop.” YouTube removed the video in response to protests.

Kochetkov told Human Rights Watch that he sent his online complaint about the threats against him to the Investigative Department of Russia’s Interior Ministry. A week later, a department official called him to confirm his place of residence and “the place where the alleged violation occurred.” “I told him I live in St. Petersburg and the video is on the internet, though that should be obvious from the complaint,” Kochetkov said. “And that was the end of the conversation.” He said that his initial allegations of a new wave of persecution of LGBT people in Chechnya has remained unanswered and that he and his colleagues were planning to sue the agency “for failure to react to a communication about a crime being perpetrated.”

Chechen authorities have denied reports of a new wave of persecution. Speaking to Interfax on January 14, Alvi Karimov, a spokesman for Ramzan Kadyrov, the governor of Chechnya, said of these reports: "This is an absolute lie, there is not a single grain of truth and it is completely baseless. There were no detentions on grounds of sexual orientation in the indicated periods in the Chechen Republic.”

Despite a staggering international outcry and repeated promises by Russian authorities to investigate the crackdown on LGBT people in Chechnya in 2017, Chechen authorities have enjoyed absolute impunity for the purge. No criminal case has been opened into a complaint by a survivor of the purge and the Russian authorities did not provide him the state protection he repeatedly requested. To the contrary, in May 2018, Russia’s justice minister, Aleksander Konovalov told the UN Human Rights Council, “The investigations that we carried out ... did not confirm evidence of rights’ violations, nor were we even able to find representatives of the LGBT community in Chechnya.”

In November 2018, 16 participating states of the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE) invoked the organization’s “Moscow Mechanism,” and appointed a rapporteur to look into allegations of abuses in Chechnya, including the anti-gay purge. In his report presented to the OSCE Permanent Council in December, the rapporteur concluded that Chechen authorities persecute LGBT people, attack human rights defenders, and carry out torture and other blatant abuses, while the Russian government “appears to support the perpetrators rather than the victims” in Chechnya.

Russia’s international partners should call on Russian authorities to take urgent action in response to Kochetkov’s complaints. Russia should effectively investigate the allegations of new abuses against LGBT people by Chechen authorities, deliver accountability for the 2017 anti-gay purge, and ensure the safety of Kochetkov, his colleagues at Russian LGBT Network, and other human rights defenders and journalists who work at great personal risk to stop abuses in Chechnya.

“Against the backdrop of this stark impunity for the horrific anti-gay purge of 2017, reports of a new wave of persecution of LGBT people in Chechnya are extremely disturbing, especially in the wake of the damning OSCE report, but not surprising at all,” Reid said.

AP:

Anzor, a gay man who spoke to the Associated Press on condition that he not be further identified out of fear for his safety and that of his family from Chechnya, is seen in this photo from April 2017. LGBT activists said Monday at least two people have died and about 40 people detained in a crackdown on gay people in the Russian republic of Chechnya. | AP
Anzor, a gay man who spoke to the Associated Press on condition that he not be further identified out of fear for his safety and that of his family from Chechnya, is seen in this photo from April 2017. LGBT activists said Monday at least two people have died and about 40 people detained in a crackdown on gay people in the Russian republic of Chechnya. | AP
     
The Russian republic of Chechnya has launched a new crackdown on gays in which at least two people have died and about 40 people have been detained, LGBT activists in Russia charged Monday.
The new allegations come after reports in 2017 of more than 100 gay men arrested and subjected to torture, and some of them killed, in the predominantly Muslim region in southern Russia.
The Associated Press and other media outlets have interviewed some of the victims, who spoke about torture at the hands of Chechen law enforcement officers. Chechen authorities have denied those accusations, and federal authorities conducted a probe into the earlier reports but said they found nothing to support the charges.
Alvi Karimov, a spokesman for Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, told the Interfax news agency on Monday that the latest reports are “complete lies and don’t have an ounce of truth in them.” Karimov insisted that no one has been detained in Chechnya on suspicion of being gay.
But the Russian LGBT Network, which has been monitoring the situation in Chechnya and helping victims, said in a statement Monday that about 40 men and women have been detained on suspicion of being gay since December and that at least two of them have died of torture in detention. The detainees are believed held at the same facility that was named in the 2017 reports.
The crackdown was first reported Friday but the activists didn’t release full details at the time.
“Widespread detentions, torture and killings of gay people have resumed in Chechnya,” said Igor Kochetkov, program director at the Russian LGBT Network. “Persecution of men and women suspected of being gay never stopped. It’s only that its scale has been changing.”
Kochetkov said the new wave of anti-gay persecution started at the end of the year when Chechen authorities detained the administrator of a social media group popular with LGBT people in the North Caucasus. Kochetkov said the mass detentions began after the authorities got hold of contacts on his phone.
LGBT activists in 2017 helped to evacuate around 150 gay men from Chechnya to help them restart their lives elsewhere in Russia. Many of them have sought asylum and resettled abroad.
Russian authorities have strenuously denied that killings and torture took place in the predominantly Muslim region where homosexuality is taboo, even after one man came forward to talk about the time he spent in detention in Chechnya.
Maxim Lapunov said he was detained by unidentified people on a street in the Chechen capital, Grozny, in 2017 and kept in custody for two weeks, where he was repeatedly beaten. He was let go after he signed a statement acknowledging that he was gay and was told he would be killed if he talked about his time in detention.
Lapunov, who is not an ethnic Chechen and is from Siberia, was the first to file a complaint with Russian authorities over the wave of arrests of gay people.
The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe last month called on Russia to investigate the reports and cited Lapunov’s case specifically.
Kadyrov and his government in Chechnya have been accused of widespread human rights abuses against many dissidents, not just gay men.



February 1, 2019

LGBT Chechen Crisis 2.0


 New reports of mass arrests, torture, and murder of LGBT people in Chechnya remind us that accountability is tragically lacking in this Russian republic.
Akhmad Kadyrov's move to support Russian forces paved the way for a new "hard" peace in Chechnya. (c) Bai Xueqi/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images. All rights reserved.

On 11 January 2019, Russia’s Novaya Gazeta newspaper reported a new wave of Chechen LGBT community arrests. Three days later, the Russian LGBT Network posted “New wave of persecution against the LGBT people in Chechnya: around 40 detained, at least two killed”.
As the story develops, it’s worth examining the reasons behind the new purge and analyze what trends this new tragedy could bring to the Eurasia region.

First thoughts

If you type “Chechnya” into Google, “Chechen war,” “Chechnya violence” and “Chechnya leader” are the first suggestions which pop up. Sadly, these words capture much about this mountainous region a thousand miles south of Moscow.
After a decade of two devastating wars between Chechen guerrilla forces and federal Russian troops in the 1990s, Chechnya disappeared from the headlines of global newspapers into the monstrous grip of its leader Ramzan Kadyrov. In the following decade, Kadyrov transformed from a shy boy in a sports suit into a ruthless provincial dictator who enjoys a bromance with president Vladimir Putin himself. Kadyrov wasted no time turning violence and arbitrariness into a tradition in Chechnya and beyond.
“We don’t have any gays!” exclaims Ramzan Kadyrov in an interview with HBO, adding that if any were found in Chechnya, Canada should take them, so as to “purify our blood.” Image still via YouTube / NSBC. In early 2017, the eyes of the world turned to Kadyrov, calling Chechnya a hotbed of severe atrocities against its LGBT community. At that time, horrifying stories of mass detentions, torture and murders erupted, followed by mass evacuation of LGBT community members and global outrage. Hundreds of newspaper articles, dozens of concern statements and two years later, the mass detentions, torture and murders of the LGBT people have restarted.

Is there a new crisis in Chechnya?

As more stories about attacks make it to the news, everyone is wondering whether Chechnya is in the midst of a second LGBT crisis. But Novaya Gazeta’s lead reporter Elena Milashina says the first crisis never ended. 
“Nothing has really indicated that the 2017 crisis stopped,” Milashina says. “There was the first wave, and there were lots of people who got detained and tortured. And throughout the past two years, the attacks were continuing, the numbers of those affected just got lower. Nobody canceled the order for the [gay] cleansing.”
A representative of the Russian LGBT network confirms that the arrests continued throughout 2017-2018: “We had cases of arrested LGBT persons in Chechnya as late as September 2018. Therefore we can’t say that this month the arrests started the second time. But we can confirm that Chechen authorities started mass arrests again.”

Why and what is happening?

Reportedly, the second wave of mass arrests started because the Chechen authorities detained a man who was in charge of a VKontakte social media page for LGBT Chechens, and therefore had many contacts in the community.
Milashina, who has been covering the LGBT crisis in Chechnya, says that she is most sad about the fact that after the first wave of mass arrests in 2017 many people “didn’t understand the seriousness of the situation” and “didn’t take safety precautions”.
Those involved in the evacuation say that this time around there appears to be more cases of murder, and there are more cases of women being affected.
Confirming the facts is difficult. As Milashina puts it, “Chechnya is a closed region, it’s like North Korea.” The Chechen authorities are known for harassing, torturing and murdering other groups of population, such as people falsely accused of terrorism offenses. In those cases, the families of victims help journalists and civil society workers verify facts and shed light on them. In the case of the LGBT community, Chechnya’s homophobic society stays silent.
Chechen law enforcement enjoys an absence of accountability and carte-blanche from higher authorities. This means that when an LGBT person is captured, the scenarios of what happens next can vary, depending on their ability to pay a bribe and family connections in the government. Some are tortured and released, others are released to their families, and then the authorities force the families to murder them; in other cases, people are able to escape Chechnya after the release. Female victims are more likely to end up murdered, says Milashina, because women’s lives cost less in Chechnya. And because families often become accomplices in these crimes, they remain silent.
A representative of the Russian LGBT Network say that not all the arrested victims have yet been released, and the arrests continue. The network is working on relocating people, but they are yet to receive many requests for relocation. Two years ago, in 2017, the mass arrests started in January, but the first relocation requests started in April, therefore the network expects more requests to roll in.

What can stop the attacks?

But while the evacuation is ongoing, one can’t stop wondering, why, despite the global outcry, the arrests didn’t stop and instead intensified. Many blame a lack of accountability within Chechnya, in relation to the federal authorities in Russia, but also before the global community.
One of the problems with accountability is that many people who have suffered traumatic experiences are unwilling to testify publicly against their torturers. Maxim Lapunov, an ethnic Russian man who went public about his 12-day ordeal in October 2017, continues to receive threats. Chechen victims are afraid, and being labeled a “pervert” in a deeply homophobic society is not so much of a concern as having their whole extended family eliminated by law enforcement.
Maxim Lapunov, centre, at a news conference in the office of Novaya Gazeta newspaper, Moscow. Image: Human Rights Watch.Russian civil society groups and journalists have requested that the Russian Federal Investigative Committee investigate these crimes, and the LGBT Network is currently preparing another application with new names.
“We are applying to the Investigative Committee and are citing the name of one person who we were informed had been killed, we were able to verify that case completely,” says the LGBT network representative. “We have done these kind of applications on multiple occasions in the past. And we are asking that the Federal Investigative Committee looks into it, not Chechen law enforcement. But usually, as in the case of Maxim Lapunov, it is the Chechen police who investigate atrocities committed by the Chechen police.”
On 31 January, Chechen police officers attempted to detain lawyer Alexander Karavayev after he entered an unmarked police station in Grozny in search of a client. Karavayev represents Bekhkan Yusupov, a gay Chechen man who returned to Chechnya in December 2018 after receiving asylum in France, and who was detained by police on arrival.

Did the Moscow Mechanism help or trigger further attacks? 

On the international level, the biggest success in terms of advocacy and accountability regarding the Chechnya LGBT crisis has been attributed to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)’s Moscow Mechanism. This mechanism was established in 1991 to be used in cases of grave human rights violations, and “provides the option of sending missions of experts to assist participating States in the resolution of a particular question or problem”. Previously, the mechanism has been used rarely, and, up until Chechnya, never against the Russian Federation.
Police station in Chernorechye, Grozny. where police attempted to detain lawyer Alexander Karavayev. Source: Novaya GazetaOver the past year, the OSCE states have addressed a number of questions to Russia, which it hasn’t been able to respond to. Austrian professor Wolfgang Benedek was appointed rapporteur, and in December 2018 he published a comprehensive report on the Chechen LGBT crisis. When the second mass arrests wave started in January 2019, some voiced theories over whether the Moscow Mechanism report triggered them.
A representative of the LGBT Network points out that there are confirmations of mass arrests from early December 2018, before the OSCE report was published. Milashina says that the report is, first of all, a legal documentation of torture and extrajudicial murders in Chechnya.
“This report also gives recommendations to Chechnya (and thus confirms that Chechnya is not the same as the rest of Russia), to Russia, but also to the European states. Now it is time for those European states to follow these recommendations,” says Milashina.
The LGBT Network adds that they also plan to invoke the UN Committee Against Torture by submitting information on cases of grave rights violations and torture, but their work in that regards was stopped due to the new crisis.

What happens in Chechnya stays in Chechnya? 

Even with all the advocacy and reports, Chechnya remains a closed region, which makes independent analysis of the crisis difficult. Getting a full picture of what’s happening inside Chechen law enforcement, and not just in the LGBT crisis, is near impossible without whistleblowers.
Who can come forward in Chechnya? Milashina says that there have been cases when representatives of Chechen law enforcement who didn’t want to be part of grave crimes against humanity escaped and asked for asylum in Europe.
But EU current asylum procedures are standardized and do not a lot Chechen refugees a lot of attention. According to Milashina, most of these LGBT asylum seekers were turned down and had to return to Russia. These people could have helped shed light on the situation in Chechnya, Milashina says, but “who would say anything when they know they aren’t protected.”
And while facts about Chechnya’s rights violations often don’t make it outside of the region, the absence of accountability can lead to escalated violence against LGBT communities. In 2017, following Chechnya’s example, Azerbaijan started mass arrests of the LGBT community, and Tajikistan created a register of LGBT persons.
“A bad example is contagious,” says the Russian LGBT Network representative, adding that this is why the Chechen authorities must be held accountable — otherwise crises like the one in Chechnya can spread. 

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