Showing posts with label Gay Persecution. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gay Persecution. Show all posts

May 2, 2020

Salvadoran President and Friend of Trump, Made Sure He Had Some Gays in 4 days Stretch Killing in El Salvador Before The Virus Hit There


 Latin leader accused of exploiting crisis

Salvadoran president took authoritarian actions before virus even hit, critics say.

INMATES in San Salvador are rounded up as part of a crackdown in prisons ordered by President Nayib Bukele after a four-day stretch of killings in El Salvador. ( El Salvador Presidency Press Office) 

By Patrick J. McDonnell and Alexander Renderos

SAN SALVADOR — Before El Salvador experienced a single case of coronavirus, President Nayib Bukele placed the country in lockdown, shuttering schools, banning large gatherings and sealing borders.

He then sent the army to cordon off towns accused of being in noncompliance and dismissed a Supreme Court ruling challenging his detention of thousands accused of violating stay-at-home orders.

“Just as I would not abide by a resolution ordering me to kill Salvadorans,” Bukele declared, “I also cannot abide by a resolution that orders me to let them die.”

Bukele says his swift response has saved lives: The country of 6.5 million reported 395 confirmed coronavirus cases and 10 deaths as of Thursday, according to the Pan American Health Organization.
But to his critics, Bukele’s moves represent the president’s latest efforts to consolidate his increasingly authoritarian rule, using the pandemic as a pretext to stifle dissent and rally support.

Earlier this year, Bukele, who won the presidency under the banner of a minor center-right party, sent troops to the congressional chamber in what opponents from both major political parties denounced as a pressure tactic for passage of a security funding bill.

In recent days, Bukele, a 38-year-old former mayor of San Salvador, has moved to burnish his tough-guy credentials, targeting a longtime nemesis — El Salvador’s infamous street gangs, known as maras , which he blamed for a surge in homicides. The president explicitly linked his gang crackdown to the coronavirus emergency.

“The maras are taking advantage of the fact that almost all of our public forces are [occupied] controlling the pandemic,” the president said in announcing a state of emergency.
Bukele essentially declared war on the country’s powerful gangs, including the infamous MS-13, approving use of lethal force against domestic “terrorists” and imposing a 24-hour lockdown for thousands of imprisoned gang members.

In the midst of a global pandemic, El Salvador’s latest anti-gang crackdown might have hardly registered beyond the region if not for a cinematic touch — the president’s release of a series of stunning photos of hundreds of jailed, half-naked gang members, huddled together like live cargo.

The heavily tattooed prisoners, garbed in boxer shorts, their shorn heads bowed, are pictured pressed together in precise formation only inches apart, as shotgun-wielding guards in full riot gear eye them ominously. Many inmates lack masks, whereas all the guards are wearing masks and face shields.
Bukele labeled the spectacle a punishment for the recent outbreak of violence — 77 killings in a four-day period, the bloodiest stretch since he took office June 1.

Previously, gang members had boasted of helping to enforce stay-at-home orders during the pandemic and of having delivered supplies to needy communities.

Other photos released on social media showed workers soldering cells shut with metal plates — a response, Bukele said, to gang members’ practice of communicating via hand signals through the openings in cell bars, probably ordering killings and other crimes outside. The inmates, vowed Osiris Luna Meza, Bukele’s chief of prisons, wouldn’t see “a ray of sun.”

Furthermore, Bukele said, the government would discontinue a longtime practice of housing rival gang members in separate cells, a step imposed to keep a measure of peace in the volatile lockups.

“All of the cells of gang members in our country will remain sealed,” the social media-savvy Bukele declared on Twitter, where he has 1.9 million followers. “They will no longer be able to see outside of the cell.… They will be inside, in total darkness, with their friends from the other gang.”
The images quickly went viral, blared across news media and internet sites worldwide, sparking global condemnation about the dehumanization of inmates.

Adding to the international outrage about the images was the clear disdain for social distancing measures — steps that Bukele previously championed as a means of thwarting the spread of the virus.
Throughout Latin America, long overcrowded lockups have erupted in violence in recent weeks as prisoners demand protective gear and other measures to shield them from the virus.

“ Given the COVID-19 pandemic, prisons in El Salvador, as elsewhere, are a potential epicenter for an outbreak, and the Bukele administration’s lockdown has exacerbated an already heightened risk,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch.

“President Bukele’s get-tough-on-crime discourse … is, ironically, putting more lives at risk of a potential contagion — inside and outside detention centers.”
A defiant Bukele appears to have relished the worldwide revulsion, accusing his critics of appeasing habitual lawbreakers.

“The international help that the maras get is incredible,” Bukele said Thursday on Twitter. “Organizations that don’t say anything when they tear apart Salvadorans shout to the sky because we take away their privileges.”

At home, Bukele has drawn high ratings, sometimes topping 80%, though experts say polling in El Salvador is of questionable accuracy. The many positive responses on social media bespeak considerable support for his take-no-prisoners public attitude toward gang members who exert de facto control of entire neighborhoods and towns.

Although El Salvador has long had one of the world’s highest homicide rates, those numbers have generally been on the decline since 2015. During his almost 11 months in office, Bukele has credited his security plan — based on bolstered police and military deployments— with further reducing violence.

What sparked the recent four-day increase in gang violence remains unclear. Some speculate that gang members, cash-strapped during the pandemic, may have been sending out a message to extortion victims to pay up back dues.

Others see darker motivations and possible behind-the-scenes maneuverings in a country still recuperating from a 12-year civil war that ended in 1992.

How the criminal groups will respond to Bukele’s actions remains a major question. The gangs have become deeply entrenched in society and have relatives in the police, military and government.
In a widely circulated video reply to the prison crackdown, masked members of one gang, Barrio 18 S ureño, complain bitterly of “human rights” violations against their imprisoned brothers and warn of dire circumstances.

“This is not the correct way to attack violence in the country,” one of the masked Barrio 18 Sureño members declares in the video. “On the contrary, these actions will end up converting the entire country into chaos.”

Bukele posted the Barrio 18 Sureño video on his Twitter account and said he was awaiting responses from the country’s other two major gangs: Barrio 18 and MS-13. The three gangs originated in Southern California.

“Stop killing immediately or those who will pay the consequences will be you and your homeboys,” the president warned.

Bukele’s actions, some worry, could indeed spur a broader conflict and a possible reemergence of the country’s darkest days of gang carnage.

Times staff writer McDonnell reported from Mexico City and special correspondent Renderos from San Salvador. Cecilia Sánchez in The Times’ Mexico City bureau contributed to this report.

April 29, 2020

Violence Breaks Out Against Gays In Morocco After Stolen Photos Hit The Net

      Same-sex relations can be punished with up to three years in prison in Morocco
Gay men are being harassed and abused in Morocco after photos taken from gay chat apps were circulated online.
Photos spread after a social media influencer told her followers to make fake accounts on apps to see how common homosexuality is.
Homosexuality is illegal in the conservative Muslim country, which is in lockdown because of coronavirus.
The restrictions mean many men are unable to leave their homes where families abuse them, activists say.
One man, a student who returned from France during the lockdown, killed himself after being identified as gay, Moroccan media report.
Three LGBT organisations who support gay men in Morocco have told BBC News that men are being harassed and are at risk in the country after the photos spread.
Samir el Mouti runs a Facebook group called The Moroccan LGBT Community, which gives advice and support to LGBT people, many of whom conceal their sexuality.
The number of men reporting abuse and asking for help has increased since the online campaign began, says Mr Mouti, who left Morocco to study for a PhD in the UK.
One man contacted the Facebook group to say he feels like "a dead man".
"I'm in great trouble. Everyone knows now that I'm homosexual, and my neighbour sexually harassed me, so I decided to flee," he told the group.
"I have nowhere to go - especially during lockdown." 
The outings began when transgender model and influencer Sofia Taloni used an Instagram Live to encourage women in Morocco to set up fake accounts on gay chat apps.
In doing so, she said they would discover how many men use the platforms, including potentially "their husbands and brothers".
She said her aim was to call out hypocrisy in Moroccan society by showing people how many men are secretly gay in the country.
Many men use apps including Grindr as a way to connect in private, because LGBT organisations or meeting places are illegal in Morocco.
Now activists are encouraging men to close their accounts to protect themselves.
However, photos of men quickly started circulating on other social media platforms, resulting in their abuse and harassment. 
Ms Taloni herself had received the support of the Moroccan LGBT Community Facebook group in recent months, the group says. 
The LGBT community in Morocco routinely faces discrimination and violence, but this campaign coincides with lockdown and the holy month of Ramadan.
"It's a double-edged sword. You might be in lockdown with homophobic family, and with Ramadan, people are very concerned about morality, and things might get heated," Mr Mouti explains.
"A lot of people become a watchdog for so-called wrongdoings and they are outing people, calling on them to repent," Mr Mouti explains.
NGOs Nassawiyat and Kif Kif are also supporting men who have been outed.
If men feel forced out of their homes because of intimidation, they have nowhere to stay because hotels are closed and special permission is required to travel between cities, the organisations told BBC News.
Those who have not managed to leave their homes are in "severe situations" with their families, Nassawiyat explained.

 Credit...Fadel S/Agence France-Presse — NYTimes,Getty Images
   Nassawiyat reported Ms Taloni's Instagram Live to Grindr and Facebook.
Facebook, which owns Instagram, has suspended Ms Taloni's account. The company told Reuters it was "taking proactive steps to find and remove other content like this".
But victims of abuse and harassment can expect no support from the police or government, activists say.
"The law is not on their side - that makes the situation dangerous because people cannot report crimes to the police and ask for protection," says Mr Mouti.
Human Rights Watch is calling on the Moroccan government to enforce the right to privacy and decriminalise same-sex relations.
"The Moroccan authorities should immediately step in to protect LGBT people's privacy and repeal anti-LGBT laws that can only fuel this homophobic behaviour," it said in a statement on Monday.
"What we've seen is just the tip of the iceberg - many people are suffering in silence," Mr Mouti says.

February 9, 2020

Russian Region of Chechnya and Their Work To Beat, Killed and Bury Gays is Documented

We won't forget!

You can do anything with a face on screen these days, whether it’s shaving decades off with a digital scalpel or keep faking it into unrecognizable oblivion. Usually, this wizardry has the air of a stunt, a transformation pulled off merely because it’s possible. Never, however, have such effects proven as chillingly essential as they are in “Welcome to Chechnya,” a vital, pulse-quickening new documentary from journalist-turned-filmmaker David France that urgently lifts the lid on one of the most horrifying humanitarian crises of present times: the state-sanctioned purge of LGBTQ people in the eponymous southern Russian republic.

Documentary from journalist-turned-filmmaker David France.
Director: David France With David Isteev, Olga Baranova, Maxim Lapunov
 Closely charting multiple missions to extract and protect brutalized victims of the regime, France collects the candid first-person perspectives that have proven difficult to come by in this climate of terror — thanks in large part to face-altering technology that keeps their identities hidden, but not their searing truth.
Image result for chechnya gay deaths
Government of Chechnya and Russia, You should know both
Premiering in competition at Sundance — with a Berlin date to follow, and an HBO release scheduled for June — “Welcome to Chechnya” further establishes France as America’s foremost documentarian on LGBTQ issues, following 2012’s superb, Oscar-nominated “How to Survive a Plague” and 2017’s similarly stirring “The Death and Life and Marsha P. Johnson.” His third feature represents a departure, however, from those historical, archive-trawling studies, instead of taking the form of an anxiously in-the-moment docu-thriller, tracking and braiding the escape narratives of several human subjects in the present tense — often without tidy resolution or catharsis. This isn’t a story to reflect on, as Putin-directed Chechen authorities continue to flatly deny the human rights violations under scrutiny: This necessarily upsetting film aims for immediate awareness and action. 

Abduction, beatings, electrocution: Gay man describes torture in Chechnya

The pre-existing material in “Welcome to Chechnya” is by far its most distressing: grainy cellphone and surveillance camera footage of real-life homophobic attacks in the republic, including a gay couple confronted mid-kiss by a gang of jeering men, and a young woman dragged from a car and bludgeoned by a male relative in an apparent honor killing. These horrific flashes regularly punctuate the action, emphasizing the constant peril faced by its Chechen subjects. The first of these, 21-year-old Muslim lesbian “Anya,” is introduced via a desperate phone call to David Isteev, a journalist turned crisis response coordinator of the Russian LGBT Network: an activist group that arranges for endangered people like Anya to flee the region, sheltering them in safe houses around Europe.

Blackmailed for sex by an uncle in return for keeping her sexuality a secret from her father, Anya is just one cruel man’s whim away from being another casualty in Chechnya’s rapidly swelling list of LGBTQ people killed or forcibly disappeared in the last three years. Using a New Yorker exposé by Masha Gessen as his starting point, France claims the hate campaign escalated with a 2017 drug raid in which explicit gay images and messages were found on a suspect’s phone, thus initiating a chain system in which LGBTQ detainees are violently coerced by police into revealing the identities of others.

It all amounts to a social “cleansing” project by Chechnya’s head of state Ramzan Kadyrov, a gun-loving far-right thug who denies the existence of such a campaign as vehemently as he denies the existence of any gay people in his republic at all. “We have no such people here,” he cheerfully tells U.S. sportscaster Bryant Gumbel in an excerpted 2017 interview. “To purify our blood, if there are any here, take them.” It’s clear Kadyrov gets his fake-news credentials from his Russian superior Vladimir Putin; the system that Isteev and his fellow activists, including grittily determined lesbian Olga Baranova, find themselves up against is in such profoundly corrupt denial, it’s all but impossible to fight. 

Lesbians more accepted than gay men around the world, study finds

France and co-writer/editor Tyler H. Walk trace these institutional battle lines with compelling rigor, but the heart of the film, in all senses, is with the survivors retrieved by Isteev, Baranova and their colleagues. In sequences more racked with nail-digging tension than any fictional prison-break film, France’s camera unobtrusively follows the activists on their runs into and out of Chechnya, complete with subterfuge, disguise, and breath-halting border crossings. At a shelter in Moscow, we observe both the sense of community and alienation felt by the fugitives, some of them mere teenagers, after leaving everything in their former lives behind. For some, the exhilaration of escape only lasts so long before desolate fear of the future sets in, and the film seeks no pat feelgood shortcuts. One traumatized young man attempts suicide; for Anya, isolated indoors for her own safety in an undisclosed location, the lack of outside-world contact only aggravates her fragile mental state.

The closest thing here to an uplifting arc is still raddled with uncertainty and compromise. Having been detained and tortured while working in Chechnya, gay events planner Maxim (initially introduced as “Grisha”) is released on the strength of his Russian citizenship, only to be pursued once more when authorities fear he’ll tell his story to the media. (His family, in turn, is threatened, forced to flee their home.) United with his boyfriend in the Moscow shelter, Maxim resolves to take his case to the courts — becoming the first survivor to testify about the Chechen purge. 

Suspect arrested in NYC subway attack on trans woman

In parallel with this disclosure, he becomes the only subject in the film to let slip his real name and his digital mask — one of several deftly applied by VFX supervisor Ryan Laney, with only fleeting blurs and seams to betray the illusion. The dissolution of his computerized face, in the midst of an impassioned press conference with Russian media, is the one gasp-inducing moment of showmanship in a film that otherwise deploys clean, no-fuss shooting and cutting to gripping effect. Otherwise, the only flashes of cinematic artifice come via the cold, quick pulse of Evgueni and Sacha Galperine’s score at the most white-knuckle moments in proceedings.

Maxim’s story gives “Welcome to Chechnya” its clearest moments of emotional release, but needless to say, his testimony hardly has a seismic effect on a crisis this crushingly entrenched — with only limited awareness and support from the rest of the world. France’s film closes on a grimly telling statistical postscript, noting that of 151 survivors rescued by the Russian LGBT Network and granted refugee status in other countries, the Trump administration has accepted a grand total of zero. The ironically inviting title only hints at part of the story in this wholly devastating documentary: The crisis, it turns out, is all around us.

By Variety

November 22, 2019

Australia is Holding A Couple of Gay Journalists From Saudi Arabia who Outed Them and Went After Them

Two gay Saudi journalists, who claim they were outed in retaliation for contacts one of them had with a foreign media outlet, have been detained in Australia after requesting asylum.
LGBT advocates are calling upon the Australian government to release the two men, who fled Saudi Arabia after realizing they were being targeted by the regime of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
NBC News reported that the men arrived in Australia more than a month ago. After they picked up their luggage, customs authorities inspected their bags and phones and asked them if they intended to seek asylum. When they said yes, they were taken to a detention center where they have mostly been held since, one of the journalists and his attorney, Alison Battisson, said.
The men, who were not named, have been together for 16 years.
Homosexuality is illegal in Saudi Arabia and punishable by death.
Just Equal spokesman Brian Greig said in a November 17 news release that since the men's arrival they have been interrogated by authorities, intimidated by the guards, and threatened with violence by other detainees.
"It is unacceptable that LGBTI people escaping threats and detention overseas are then confronted with that here," Greig said in the release.
One of the men told the Guardian that they ran from the Saudis after being imprisoned and threatened with trumped-up charges of leaking negative stories about the regime, only to re-experience a similar situation in Australia.
One of the men, who worked with many foreign reporters in his position at the ministry of media and often defended the regime in the international press, denied the Saudi regime's charges.
The Saudi government cracked down on dissidents in 2018. The men claim they are not dissidents and said the government became suspicious of any journalists' contacts with other reporters who were critical of the regime.
The Guardian reported that one man was targeted by the ministry after a foreign media crew obtained and smuggled incriminating documents of the regime's mistreatment of journalists out of the country in 2018.
Purportedly, the intention was to pass the documents along to Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was slain at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last year.
Prior to escaping their home country, the two men told the newspaper that they "lived a comfortable life of relative wealth and privilege in Riyadh."
"Australia must be a safe refuge for people fleeing persecution, including anti-LGBTI hate and violence," Greig said.
"This must also include a fair, efficient, and unbiased process for dealing with claims of asylum on the basis of sexuality," he added.

Rights group urges Ugandan authorities to stop harassment

Human Rights Watch has urged Ugandan officials to stop harassing and torturing LGBT Ugandans and to drop all charges against the LGBT community members who were caught up in two recent raids.
"Ugandan police are stooping to new lows in their persecution of people for being LGBT," said Neela Ghoshal, senior LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, in a November 19 news release from the organization.
Joan Amek, who was arrested during a raid on the Ram bar, told HRW, "After the drug accusations failed, they accused us of being idle. But there is no crime, they just need something to pin on people."
Sexual Minorities Uganda Executive Director Frank Mugisha accused police of "trumped-up charges" against the bar's patrons. Voice of America reported that he said the raid was an intimidation tactic targeting Uganda's LGBT community.
"Ugandan police should be protecting people, not violating their rights because of their presumed sexuality or gender identity," said Ghoshal.
On November 10, Ugandan police rounded up an estimated 120 people during an early Monday morning raid on the gay-friendly bar in Kampala.
Police charged 67 of the people arrested with "public nuisance" and violating the Tobacco Control Act 2015, which prohibits smoking opium and shisha. Police released 53 people after dropping all charges against them, according to SMUG. 
The people still detained are being held at a maximum-security prison in the suburb of Luzira. They could face up to a year in jail if sentenced, the group's lawyer Patricia Kimera told Reuters.
A person identified only as Sonia, who was one of the bar patrons arrested, recounted to Gay Nation that the police swarmed the bar and ordered everyone to sit down.
She asked a police officer what people were doing that was wrong.
"I got slapped for it," she said, stating that the officers slapped some of her friends for asking the same question. Some officers were reportedly using homophobic slurs during the arrest.
The bar patrons were later put into police trucks and taken to the central police station. They still hadn't been informed of what they had done wrong, Sonia said.
Another individual also arrested during the raid on the bar and identified as Judy added that many people's lives are forever changed because family members "don't want anything to do with them." Some nearly lost their jobs.
They "don't think they have a life to come back to," she said. "I and my friends can't even have decent sleep because our minds can't rest."
The raid was the sixth reported attack on LGBT gatherings in Uganda since 2012. On October, 16 Ugandan workers were arrested at the office of queer youth empowerment organization Let's Walk Uganda. The workers were charged with homosexuality and forced to undergo anal examinations.
The raids on LGBT venues in Uganda coincides with a particularly violent year of attacks on the community — including a false threat to revive the so-called Kill the Gays Bill — and brutal murders of some LGBT people.

July 27, 2019

A Gay Man Held Prisoner in Chechen Lives To Tell

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

June 12, 2019

Iran Defends The Execution of Gay People

I'm sharing this new story as it appeared yesterday on

The US on Wednesday accused Iran of violating fundamental human rights after Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Sarif endorsed the execution of gay people.
Sarif defended his country's draconian policies at a joint press conference with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in Tehran on Monday.
A reporter from German tabloid Bild asked: "Why are homosexuals executed in Iran because of their sexual orientation?"
He responded: "Our society has moral principles. And we live according to these principles. These are moral principles concerning the behavior of people in general. And that means that the law is respected and the law is obeyed," after railing against human rights violations by the US and Israel.
Maas, who was in Iran to negotiate the continuation of the nuclear deal, largely ignored the issue at the time.
Shadi Amin, an Iranian writer and activist who now lives in Germany, told DW-Farsi that she was "outraged" by the Iranian foreign minister's comments. "Humiliation, repression and sexual harassment of a particular social group should be viewed critically and prohibited by law," Amin said.
Ayatollah Khomeini returns to Iran in 1979 (picture-alliance/AP Images)


'I feel nothing'

On February 1, 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Tehran from exile in France. When a reporter asked him how he felt upon his return to Iran, Khomeini replied: "Nothing — I feel nothing." Some analysts interpreted his remarks as the Shiite leader's idea about embarking on a "divine mission" where emotions hardly mattered.
"Violating LGBT rights under the guise of 'moral principles' shows that Zarif doesn't respect human rights. LGBT rights are human rights. Iran must not violate them by giving religious or cultural reasons," she said. "New laws have made societies aware of the differences and accept them."
"Many homosexuals tell us of abuse, torture and threats faced by their families and friends. As long as the country's laws do not change, the situation of homosexuals in Iran will not improve," said Amin.  Inhuman and unacceptable
The German Foreign Ministry's Michael Roth later clarified to Bild: "LGBTI rights are human rights. And they have always been. Everywhere. No religious, cultural or ethnic tradition justifies state persecution, especially the execution of homosexuals. In Iran and seven other countries worldwide, homosexuals face the death penalty. That is inhuman and completely unacceptable."
His comments came after Maas was criticized by German politicians for not addressing the issue at the time.
The US ambassador to Germany and the country's most senior openly-gay official, Richard Grenell, on Wednesday slammed Iran for its position in comments to German and Israeli media.
"The Iranian regime has violated basic principles of the United Nations," he told the German Press Agency (DPA).
"UN members should honor (the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights) if they want to be members at all. The criminalization of homosexuality plainly violates this declaration."
Homosexuality violates Islamic Law in Iran and can be punishable by death. Several thousand people have been executed for homosexuality since the 1979 Islamic revolution, according to some rights activists.

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