Showing posts with label Russians Anti Gay Laws. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Russians Anti Gay Laws. Show all posts

August 3, 2019

Guitarists Paul Landers and Richard Kruspe Ended the Show in Moscow with Mouth Kiss

Rammstein is a freaky, cult German metal band, best known for storming their shows in BDSM costumes with flamethrowers, Extremely lame, yes.

We watched a performance of the six-piece during which their hyper-masculine, mountainous frontman Till Lindeman squirted the crowd with a mysterious liquid from a swinging strap-on. We talked about queerness and performance, and compared how Lindeman's antics would be read in comparison to those of Lynn Breedlove, the swaggering lesbian frontwoman of queercore punk act Tribe8, who also frequently performed wearing a dildo.

With this as the only context, it was very cool and not entirely surprising to see this photo of Rammstein from their recent concert in Moscow. Guitarists Paul Landers and Richard Kruspe ended the show by making out on-stage, and saying "Russia, we love you," flying in the face of the Russian government's crackdown on LGBTQ people.

Their steamy performance tactic is specifically being linked to a policy called the "gay propaganda" law, that bars "the promotion of non-traditional sexual relationships" to minors, which based on its usage so far, includes films like Elton John biopic Rocketman and pretty much all LGBTQ rights activism. It can even get foreigners like Rammstein "arrested and detained for up to 15 days, then deported, or fined up to 5,000 rubles and deported."

The law has also justified the lack of judicial action taken against hate crimes targeting LGBTQ people. As recently as last week, LGBTQ activist Yelena Grigoryeva was stabbed and killed after her information was shared on an anti-LGBTQ vigilante Facebook group, which Russian authorities have reportedly failed to investigate.

According to The AV Club, the Rammstein kiss wasn't a totally new addition to their set, and thus not entirely about protesting Russian policies. Apparently, the band has been ending their shows with a make out session throughout their current European tour, which, given the band is all straight, as far as we know, is perhaps a questionable shock tactic.

However, huge, scary looking dudes sucking face front of thousands of people in country full of rampant, institutionalized homophobia — and getting people talking about the oppression of queer Russians — you have to love it. Rammstein's camp and leather has always had a queer sensibility, and this might just bring to icon status.

Photo via Instagram

March 22, 2019

Russian Authorities Similar to Past USSR Ban Teen Theatre Production

In front of the Russian Embassy in Helsinki, Finland. In 7
 September 2013 a group of activists painted the pedestrian 
crossing stripes with rainbow colors to protest the Russian
 anti-LGBT sentimentality and legislation, notably the bans 
on “homosexual propaganda” // Flickr, Murmur, under CC3.0
Global Voices Org

“The Pinks and the Blues,” a youth theater production about gender stereotypes, has been banned by local authorities in Komsomolsk-on-Amur in far eastern Russia.
Russian media report that company director Yulia Tsvetkova was questioned by a police anti-extremism unit and that the actors in her amateur collective, teenagers aged 13 to 15, were questioned as well.
The play was intended to be staged as part of an activist theatre festival called Tsvet Shafrana (The Color of Saffron), touching on diverse subjects such as school bullying, the Prague Spring and anti-war themes. The festival has been called off, due to the ban and its loss of a performance venue.
“The Pinks and the Blues”, developed by the activist troupe Merak, triggered intense scrutiny from local authorities who saw it as a dangerous and subversive activity promoting “hatred against men and non-traditional family relations,” Tsvetkova told Takie Dela, an independent charity news website. In parallel, her festival first lost one venue that agreed to host them, and then another one two weeks later. These cancellations sent a clear signal to Tsvetkova that authorities would not allow the festival to proceed.
“Non-traditional family relations” echoes the formulations of a recent law legislating against “propaganda of homosexuality to minors.” In the recent years, it has been used almost exclusively against advocacy groups for gay rights, gender equality and sex education. Accusations of “gay propaganda” can attract large amounts of attention and pressure from local legislators, child welfare and school authorities, as well as the police’s anti-extremism unit — as it happened in Tsvetkova’s case. 
Yulia Tsvetkova, a teacher and a feminist activist, says that during questioning, police agents confronted her with print-outs of her social media posts about sex education in schools, feminism, and homosexuality.
She denies ever exposing her child actors to any LGBT-related content, saying:
Pink and blue are seen as typically “male” and “female colors”, that’s it. That’s what the play is about, the name was suggested by one of the actors, a 11-year-old child.
Tsvetkova also said the police were acting on three different anonymous letters of complaint against her, all written in the same formulaic language echoing the words of the law prohibiting “propaganda of non-traditional family relations.” 
Russia has recently passed a series of socially conservative laws and “traditional values” are regularly mentioned in political speeches and statements. These laws have been used to prosecute activists, health awareness websites and online news media, resulting in fines and website blockages — not to mention intense hate campaigns on social media and other forms of public backlash.

April 25, 2018

Tom Daley Say "I will Fight For Gay Rights in Russia, At least I Won't be Thrown in Jail"

Diving great Tom Daley will campaign for gay rights when he competes at next month’s World Series in Russia.

 Daley, who combined with Dan Goodfellow to win gold at the Games on the Gold Coast, has called on the Commonwealth Games Federation to do more to pressure those nations where homosexuality remains illegal. Thirty-six of 53 member states still outlaw gay sex.
Speaking to the BBC, Daley, 23, said he intended to maintain his campaigning when competing in Russia.
“I think the one thing that is the most powerful thing to do is go and compete and do the best I can, and just be who I am and compete at the highest level that I can,” he said.
“Speaking out can only do so much, but for me going there competing is a message that I want to urge other LGBT people to go and compete in Russia.
“It doesn’t matter about our sexual orientation.”
Daley, who held a baby shower with husband Dustin Lance Black last weekend, said becoming a father has inspired him to be more forthright in his activism.
“You want your child to grow up having an equal opportunity as everyone else that is born, whether they’re gay, straight, male, female, whatever religion you are, whatever ethnicity you are,” he said.
“I think that everyone should have the equal opportunity to do the best you can.”

Daley told the BBC it struck him while he was sitting with his gold medal at lunch with Black following the Commonwealth Games how lucky he was “to not be worried about any ramifications or someone being able to throw me in prison”.
“To know that 36 of the competing nations criminalise LGBT people so that if I was born in a different country I wouldn’t be able to compete truly as I am, it struck me in such a way I was mortified by it,” he said.
“I crafted a little sentence on my Instagram post and that was exactly what I was feeling in that moment.

April 7, 2018

How Gay Chechens Run from Death Threats, Beatings and Even Exorcism

Family pressure has fuelled a sense of persecution felt by gay people in Chechnya, a mainly Muslim region in southern Russia. 
Dozens have fled and some have been granted asylum abroad, amid reports of kidnap and torture by Chechen security forces targeting gay or allegedly gay people. Chechen officials deny the reported abuses.
Olga Prosvirova of BBC Russian interviewed two of those who fled in fear. They requested anonymity, so their names have been changed.

Presentational grey line

Marko, a Chechen in her early 20s, will never forget the day her family found out she was gay.
"They said to me: 'Either we will kill you, or we will lock you up in a psychiatric ward and throw away the key. The only alternative is that you undergo an exorcism.'" 
Marco now lives temporarily in one of Russia's largest cities, waiting to complete her documents so that she can leave Russia for good.
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov maintains that there are no homosexuals in the republic. But an investigation by the Novaya Gazeta newspaper last year found that members of Chechnya's LGBT community were regularly beaten and tortured. Some, it alleged, had even been killed.
Mr Kadyrov's spokesman Alvi Karimov dismissed the allegations, telling the Interfax news agency: "Even if such people existed in Chechnya, our law enforcement agencies would not need to bother with them, because their own relatives would simply send them to a place from which they would never return."
Marko says she knew she was different even at the age of four.
"As a teenager, I used to think about suicide," she told BBC Russian. "But then I decided: 'No, I won't give you the satisfaction. I'll run away and do the things I have always dreamed of, whatever it takes, whether you like it or not.'" 
Muslim exorcism
Before she left Chechnya, Marko agreed to her family's demand that she undergo an exorcism. Her brother took her to their local mosque, where the mullah told her she was possessed by the devil.
"He held my head and read verses from the Koran, and I knew I had to respond as a person possessed would," she says. "I had seen enough YouTube videos to know what to do, and so I twisted about and shouted and said there were seven different demons inside me."
After two hours, she says, everyone rejoiced and said I was cured. "'Hooray!' they all shouted. 'You are no longer a lesbian!'"
They found a young man for her and told her she would marry, but soon after that she managed to escape.  

Presentational grey line

Since giving this interview, and helped by an LGBT organisation, Marko has left Russia for a new life abroad. She says she now wants to put her past behind her and just live with her girlfriend, whom she met on social media.
"I just want to live, to have children and be happy," she says.

International dimension

Gay protest in London, 2 Jun 17Image copyrightAFP
Image captionGay rights activists protested outside the Russian embassy in London last summer

It is hard to find out how many Chechens like Marko have been granted refuge outside Russia, as many immigration services do not register the sexual orientation of asylum seekers. 
Last year the German foreign ministry said it had accepted one gay man from Chechnya and was reviewing four more applications. Lithuania has taken in two and France one. 
Belgium has given five gay Chechen men humanitarian visas so that they can fly to Belgium from Moscow, Belgian media reported on Friday.
And more than two dozen gay and bisexual men and women from Chechnya have been granted asylum in Canada.
This week Igor Kochetkov, head of the Russian LGBT Network, told Novaya Gazeta that over the past year his charity had assisted 114 people from Chechnya who said they had been persecuted because of their sexual orientation.

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov (R) and Russian President Vladimir Putin, 20 Dec 11Image copyrightAFP
Image captionChechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov (R) is a firm ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin

Ruslan is torn between his feelings for his boyfriend and love of his own family. He escaped Chechnya after being held captive for a month.
"I've liked boys since I was a kid," says Ruslan, now in his early 30s. "But when my relatives found out I was gay, they took away my passport, my documents and my mobile phone and they locked me in my room for over a month."
One day he managed to get out and borrowed a neighbour's phone. Later that night his boyfriend came to whisk him away to a different city.

'Living a lie'

Ruslan spoke of a "big purge of gays in Chechnya". 
He said the Kadyrov militia "found one and beat him until he gave them the names of others. 
"Some were caught and thrown into cellars and beaten violently. Some were never found: their relatives didn't even bother looking for them, because they said they'd brought shame on them."
Ruslan's new life is more difficult than he imagined it would be. He spends most of his time hiding indoors; if he goes out, he covers his head with a hood. 
To earn money recently, he handed out campaign leaflets before last month's presidential election, but once he came across a police patrol and ran straight back to his flat.
Unlike Marko, Ruslan has not decided whether he should flee Russia. "I don't know what's happening at home (in Chechnya)," he says. "My brother is probably looking for me: he has most likely gone to the police."
When he talks about his family and his home, he struggles to hold back the tears. He misses his mother and young niece, he says, who is getting married soon.
"All my life I have observed our customs, according to the Koran," he says. "But I simply couldn't carry on living a lie. The only thing I wish for is that my niece, whom I love dearly, doesn't think badly of me and that her husband does not say to her: 'Your uncle is gay: your family is unclean.' I pray to Allah to protect her from this."


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March 28, 2018

The Crack Down! Gay Men Beaten and Waiting Their Turn to be Killed in Chechnya But One Escaped

 Now Safe in Canada

We published about this story last year but we are glad Buzzfeed is also writing about this survivor and we are happy to repost the story from BuzzFeed

[TORONTO]  When Alihan finally made his way home, he could barely move. His badly bruised back had a rotting smell to it he couldn’t get rid of, no matter how much he showered. He had been beaten so badly during the weeks he spent in prison without charge that the blood under his skin began to dry, curl, and become infected. He had a high fever and needed help using to the washroom, but his family was too afraid to bring him to a hospital or a specialist.
A soft-spoken man in his twenties with short brown hair, Alihan is one of the dozens of men the authorities have identified as gay who has been captured and beaten in the Russian republic of Chechnya since last February.
“I could have died,” Alihan told BuzzFeed News in an interview conducted in Russian. “When I stood up, I couldn't breathe.”
He only agreed to speak to BuzzFeed News on the condition that his real name not is used, to protect himself and his family, with the name he gave to Russian investigative outlet Novaya Gazeta in its place.
Alihan said despite many gay men and women staying closeted in the majority-Muslim region, it was once possible to live a good life inside Chechnya. Before being arrested, he never would have thought the Kremlin-backed government, headed by Ramzan Kadyrov, was capable of a wide-scale crackdown.
“Unlike other guys, I didn't have to pretend,” Alihan said. “I had a great life, I had things to brag about.”
That ended abruptly last year. As Novaya Gazeta reported, the Kadyrov regime began preying on gay and bisexual men, confiscating their phones to find more victims. The men were rounded up and brought to a prison where they were beaten and tortured, asking them to give up former partners and other gay men. In the weeks and months that followed, Kadyrov insisted that gay men didn’t exist inside Chechnya, a stance he’s maintained to the present.
Now, almost a year after the crackdown took place, Alihan is living in relative safety in Canada, and finally ready to tell his story. Alihan might be one of the lucky ones. Even as the assault on LGBT rights remains ongoing, activists say, it remains difficult to get the victims of torture out of Russia and into one of the 20 countries that have so far offered asylum to only a small number of escapees.
“People are feeling disempowered and unprotected,” one activist who has worked in the region for years told BuzzFeed News, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect sources in the region. “They’re wondering if they’re next.”  
Alihan was among the first victims of the crackdown. It started last February when he began getting strange phone calls. Alihan said the caller insulted him and spoke mostly in Chechen, not Russian. “You're a dirty whore,” he remembers the caller saying once. The calls only got more explicit. Alihan said he tried to ignore him, but the calls left him scared. Eventually, he blocked the number.

"They said I was a slut, but I wasn't paying much attention to it,” he said. “I thought it was some harassment. I thought it was maybe someone I chatted with but rejected. I had an attitude back then."
Then he got a call from a man he knew, asking to meet at his apartment. Alihan wasn’t going to go, but his other plans for the day fell through and he agreed to meet the man at a children’s playground in a yard surrounded by apartment buildings on Putin Avenue, a street named after Russian President Vladimir Putin. After meeting Alihan, the man urged him to come inside for fear of people seeing two men together.
“I followed him, I wasn't sure about it,” he said. “While I was walking up the stairs, I thought maybe he needed help or something.”
Alihan didn’t know which apartment the man lived in. He walked up to the second floor before deciding to leave. “It was a late instinct of self-preservation,” he said. When he turned around, he was attacked from behind and dragged upstairs. He yelled, but nobody came out to help him. He was dragged to the third floor. A man opened the door and asked “Is this her?” referring to Alihan with a feminine pronoun. He thought the men wanted money or maybe they were there to rape him. While doing a search, they groped his butt, his genitals, and his chest, he said.
“It was gross, their harassment,” Alihan said. “It was so gross I remember it still.”
The guards took his phone and searched through it. (They also took his money and his charger, property that was never returned to him.) According to reporting by Novaya Gazeta, a phone search is how the crackdown first began — police arrested a man for drug use and found photos and messages from other gay men. Alihan said that’s what happened to him, too. He wasn’t actively dating at the time and he deleted the phone number of the only man he was seeing, even blocking the number on WhatsApp to avoid messages asking him to get back together. Alihan said authorities later pulled his phone records to find the number.
The captors beat Alihan, demanding to know whether he knew any other gay men. When he confessed to knowing one but not remembering his number, they drove him to the building where Alihan’s ex-lived.
Alihan did not find the man he was looking for and was taken back to the apartment where he was being held. That’s where Alihan says Ayub Kataev, a law enforcement official, put him on his knees and kicked him in the face. Kataev was one of several Chechen officials, including Kadyrov himself, later sanctioned by the United States for their roles in the crackdown.
Eventually, Alihan and others were transported to one of the many facilities outside Grozny, Chechnya’s capital, where gay Chechens were beaten, tortured, and sometimes killed. Under pressure of violence, Alihan and others were forced to give up other gay men they knew. “They administered electric shocks, but they mostly hit me with a pipe,” Alihan said. “My legs were swollen. I couldn't take a normal breath in or out because of the pain in my back. Overall, they liked to hit victims who were skinny, smaller, more attractive men.”
Alihan said there were few guards who refrained from hitting the captives. There seemed to be no end to the violence and humiliation. Men were lined up and told to hit their heads against the wall. Some were forced to dance “like women.” The victims spent a lot of their time cleaning the guards’ cars in the middle of winter. Alihan had to wash blood left on prison walls by other tortured men.
One guard seemed to take his own loss out on the prisoners. “When his brother died, the next day he came to beat us,” Alihan said.
They were held in the same cells as drug dealers and people whose family members had gone to fight in Syria. They were all fed once a day and not allowed to shower. One man’s wounds had become badly infected, so the guards allowed him to shower to get rid of the smell. It didn’t help.
“The smell from his wounds was really bad,” Alihan said. “It was terrible for everyone. And for him. He's not an animal. We put up with this. We sat there quietly.”
The men only slept three or four hours every day, but some guards didn’t let them sleep at all.
Alihan credits the story in Novaya Gazeta, written by journalist Elena Milashina, with saving his life and the life of other victims by prompting an international outcry. “I thought they would have ordered us shot dead if it weren't for Milashina and the rest of the world that paid attention to this,” Alihan said.
The activist who spent years working in North Caucasus said the outcry took the Chechen government by surprise. They were certain it wouldn’t get out, counting on the victims being ashamed of their sexuality. “They would be so embarrassed, ashamed, and dishonored they would never tell anyone,” she said. “But they did tell.”
International attention is also part of the reason why Alihan is speaking out now. He remembers the names and faces of his captors, and he wants them recorded for the world to see. Some of them, like Ayub Kataev, Apti Alaudinov, and Magomed Daudov, the chair of Chechen parliament known by the nickname Lord, have since been sanctioned by the US for their role in the purge.
There were others as well, whose names Alihan can recite from memory. He wants governments to keep paying attention because the crisis has not gone away.
"If a Chechen is gay, it's worse than being a terrorist,” Alihan said. “He needs to be able to leave the republic automatically. Anywhere. Gays and lesbians are in danger of death. For those with HIV or other illnesses, it's even worse. You can't marry them. And they would be killed automatically. They're not needed in the republic. Their own relatives don't need them. Some try to marry off the men and to control them somehow. Many are modernized and not ready to kill. My relatives weren't ready to kill.” Alihan and over two dozen Chechen men have resettled in Canada in secret, fearful of retaliation from both Chechen authorities and local diaspora communities. When activists first started getting men out of the region, they wouldn’t speak publicly about the countries that took them in. Many are still not public. Those fears are not misplaced. The Globe and Mail reported last September, citing two anonymous sources, that one man who landed in Toronto was physically threatened.
Spokespeople for Immigration and Citizenship as well as Global Affairs Canada declined to comment on the details of the Chechens' resettlement, citing concerns for people on the ground. There are no specifics about how the secretive the program was developed, but it’s clear work of activists was key.
In Russia, that work fell to the Russian LGBT Network, which set up a hotline and safe houses for those wanting to escape and prodded embassies to act. Alihan was one of the many people who called the hotline, which still rings often according to Russian LGBT Network head Igor Kochetkov.
“Some people are afraid of their relatives, others are being blackmailed by police. We’re receiving calls from people with very different situations,” Kochetkov told BuzzFeed News.
It’s not only the victims who want to get out, he says, but potential victims as well. Because authorities search phones and obtain names through torture, nobody knows if they will be next. That’s also what makes activists want to keep this story in the news.
“The main thing that everyone has to know is that nothing has been done to bring the perpetrators to justice,” Kochetkov said. “It’s not just Russia’s business, this is a crime against humanity and the international community has to apply strength to resolve it.”
In Canada, much of the work of helping resettle victims of the purge was done by Rainbow Railroad, a nonprofit dedicated to helping LGBT people escape state violence. Last year, the organization brought 200 people from 15 countries to safety, including victims of the Chechen purge.
Kimahli Powell, the group’s director, said they worked closely with the Canadian government to bring the men here, a partnership they’d like to keep open as more LGBT people face prosecution around the world. They also provided support to the men who escaped, addressing immediate needs like housing, mental health, and struggles with learning the language.
“These individuals fled with nothing and were in a safe house in Russia for months,” Powell told BuzzFeed News. “So there were basic necessities we felt we were obligated to provide.”
Canada is tight-lipped about the process that allowed the men into the country, and many now worry it was a onetime exception. International law requires for a person to have left their home country to qualify for refugee status, but doing so would have put the Chechen men in too much danger if their refugee claims were rejected and they were sent back.
LGBT refugees across the world face similar dangers, which is why activists and politicians alike are asking the Canadian government to create a concrete policy around the issue. Having spent months waiting for his chance to leave Russia and seeing people suffering for their sexuality firsthand, Alihan also thinks countries with the resources to help need to step up.
“I would ask them to bring the people who were stolen straight here,” he said
He’d also like for his tormentors to face international sanctions from a handful of countries under the United States’ Magnitsky Act, which was passed in 2012 as a way to punish Russian officials for human rights violations after a lawyer investigating corruption was killed in prison. Canada passed its own version of that act late last fall. Government officials declined to comment on individuals who could be sanctioned under it in the future, but a spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that “Canada now has the ability to impose asset freezes and travel bans on those responsible for or complicit in these reprehensible acts.”
Meanwhile, things in the region are getting worse. An attack on a prominent Chechen human rights group, Memorial, last month was a blow to activists. The director of the group was detained on Jan. 9 on drug charges activists called “trumped-up.” According to the activist BuzzFeed News spoke with, Kadyrov has made it very clear that doing something wrong will affect not just an individual, but their immediate and extended family.
“These are very scared people. They’re very broken,” the activist said. “They are surrounded by a specter of uncontrolled, unexpected, could happen to anyone, horrific violence.”
But she still has hope, thanks to the ordinary people who continue to defy the regime despite dangers.
“There’s always hope because there’s one thing I know,” she said. “There are people in Chechnya, and all places, who are good and kind and brave people who support and protect others. And often because they do this, they suffer for it. But they keep doing it.”
Despite his journey, Alihan misses home. He brings up how beautiful Chechnya is and, if it were not for dangers, it would be worth visiting. The shawarma in Canada, he said, just doesn’t compare to one of his favorite dishes back home.
Alihan also relishes the openness being in Canada brings and not having to hide. He has anxiety about how his life will develop, whether he will have to take odd jobs like many other immigrants to be able to pay the rent. But he also has dreams, like being a fashion photographer or working for a newspaper. They're far-off plans and he says he feels shy talking about it.
“I have hope and interest,” he said. “I want to do something.” •
Jane Lytvynenko
Jane Lytvynenko
Jane Lytvynenko is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Toronto, Canada.  Contact Jane Lytvynenko at

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December 28, 2017

Gays Flee as Crack Down at Former Soviet States Intensifies

In Baku -- Niko, a 27-year-old gay epileptic, recalls being beaten, tortured with electric shocks, and raped by four police officers who detained him during a crackdown on homosexuals in Azerbaijan.
“They raped me anally and orally,” says Niko, who asks that his real name not is used because he fears for his life. “The police forced me to swallow their sperm.”
Then, he says, he was raped by a police truncheon.

“They rammed the truncheon in my anus and I had an epileptic seizure,” Niko says. “I don’t remember what happened after that. When I woke up, I wasn’t even able to walk.”
For the next 10 days, Niko remained in custody, where he says the torture continued.

After his release in late September, he spent nearly two months trying to stay out of the sight of police who knew about his sexual orientation.

But by mid-November, Niko says, he had been victimized four more times by police officers extorting bribes from him or forcing him to perform oral sex in order to avoid being charged again with "refusing police orders."

Still recovering from shock, he tells RFE/RL about his desperation to leave Azerbaijan and start a new life elsewhere.

International human rights groups say Azerbaijan’s crackdown echoes similar roundups during 2017 in Russia’s North Caucasus region of Chechnya.
In both places, suspected homosexuals were detained, brutally abused, and forced to name other gays who, in many cases, received similar treatment as the crackdowns widened.
Amnesty International says it thinks about 100 homosexuals were rounded up in Azerbaijan’s operation during the last half of September, which the government said was necessary to contain sexually transmitted diseases and improve “morality.”
In Chechnya, the rights group says, well over 100 people were detained and tortured, and at least three were killed. Chechnya’s government denies the roundups ever happened there.

But Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) say evidence of the Chechnya operations is undeniable -- with reports of the violence shocking the world.

Niko tells RFE/RL he was “really shaken” last spring when he first heard about Chechnya’s crackdown.

"I felt really terrible,” he says. “There was a sudden fear in my heart. But I didn’t think it would happen in Azerbaijan to the same extent. I never imagined the recent crackdown here could be that brutal."
Growing Repression, Violence
Rights groups say the increased repression and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in former Soviet republics has been encouraged by Russia’s 2013 law criminalizing the distribution to minors of “distorted ideas about the equal social value of traditional and nontraditional sexual relationships.”

In October, in the Samara region on Russia's Volga River, 27-year-old LGBT rights activist Yevdokia Romanova was convicted and fined under what critics have dubbed the "gay propaganda” law -- despite a June ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) that the legislation violates the European Convention on Human Rights.
Romanova had posted links on social media to the website of a LGBT rights youth coalition and Western reports on the LGBT movement -- including a BuzzFeed article about an LGBT-rights protest in St. Petersburg.

Denis Krivosheyev, Amnesty International’s deputy director for Europe and Central Asia, describes Romanova’s case as “a sad illustration of the desperate circumstances currently faced” by LGBT activists in Russia.
“Even the simple freedom to share an online story with friends is now limited by legislation that is blatantly discriminatory and homophobic,” Krivosheyev says.

Krivosheyev tells RFE/RL that the 2013 law initially encouraged a wave of homophobic attacks across Russia that, by 2017, had spread to other former Soviet republics in the form of official crackdowns, discrimination, and mob violence.

In Uzbekistan, where homosexuality is a crime, self-declared “vigilantes” have posed on social media to win the trust of gay men and lure them to meeting places.
Erbulat, a gay friend of the victim of one attack that was recorded and posted online by a homophobic gang, tells RFE/RL there have been many similar attacks recently against homosexuals in Uzbekistan but victims are scared to call police.
"I also was attacked, threatened, and humiliated in such a video," Erbulat says. "I barely escaped them alive. But if I had reported that to the police, they would have laughed at me. They're homophobes, too."
Although Tajikistan rescinded its Soviet-era law against homosexuality in 1998, its government continues to subject gay men to discrimination and rights abuses. It also has forced groups that defend gay rights to stop operating.
In October, the Tajik Prosecutor-General’s Office announced it had compiled a list of what it said were 367 gay men and women in the country “in order to protect their safety and to prevent the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases.”

But Firuz, a 30-year-old gay man from Dushanbe, tells RFE/RL the LGBT community fears Tajikistan’s “gay registry” will be used for future crackdowns like those in Chechnya and Azerbaijan.
“The government’s mind-set is above the law in this situation. They answer only to themselves,” says Firuz, who was added to the registry and underwent forced medical examinations after he was detained during a police raid on a Dushanbe nightclub.
Amnesty International also says groups that defend LGBT rights are facing a rise in hostility in parts of the former Soviet Union, fueled by discrimination, homophobia, and what it describes as Russia’s crusade against “nontraditional sexual relationships.”
In a December 22 report, the global human rights watchdog said LGBT rights groups in Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan were facing an “increasingly discriminatory environment” due to “the extent of Russian influence and the reach of its media.”
Nightmare In Baku
In Baku, Niko’s nightmare began when he was walking home from his job as a sales consultant for a private supermarket shortly before midnight on September 14.
Meeting a gay friend on the street by chance, a transvestite sex worker he had not seen for months, Niko says he stopped to chat just as an unmarked police car arrived.

“Police knew my friend because he has worked in the streets," Niko says. “Later on, we learned they were looking for us because another gay friend of ours gave them our names.”

Niko says uniformed police threw his friend in the back of their squad car.

"I didn't understand what was going on and continued walking," Niko says. "A few minutes later, I felt a truncheon strike the back of my head." 
Niko says he and his friend were taken to Police Unit 19 in Baku’s Yasamal District, where they were beaten and tortured until 4 a.m.
“They started with batons, kicks, and fists,” Niko says, struggling to speak. “Then four of them who were going off shift took me to the deputy police chief’s room."
He says it's there that repeated rapes and other abuses took place and continued until he passed out.
Later that morning, Niko and his friend appeared in a Baku court where the judge sentenced them to 10 days of “administrative detention” on charges of “resisting police orders” -- the same charge that Azerbaijan’s Interior Ministry says was brought against 56 people who were sentenced to up to 30 days of “administrative detention” during the September crackdown.

Krivosheyev and other rights activists say the charge is commonly used by authorities in Azerbaijan for arbitrary arrests.

“We were sent to the Binagady Detention Center,” Niko says. “But after two days there, we were taken to the Organized Crime Department” -- a branch of the Interior Ministry tasked with combating terrorism, human trafficking, kidnapping, extortion, and other organized crimes.
He says “employees of the police unit” beat and humiliated both of them and “tortured us with electric shocks for two more days.”
“I witnessed several other gay people being tortured,” Niko says. “I don’t know the exact number of detainees and tortured people.”

After he was forced to name other gay and transgender people, Niko says, he was returned to the administrative detention center, where his head was shaved.

He was released on September 25 after serving his 10-day sentence.

Government Response
Homosexuality is not a crime in Azerbaijan but is deeply frowned upon by many in the conservative, Muslim-majority country.

Azerbaijani Interior Ministry Ramil Usubov justified the crackdown in an official letter to Nils Muiznieks, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights.

Usubov confirmed that 83 people were detained in various parts of Baku for “violation of public order, offenses to public morality, and willful insubordination” of police orders.

He also told the European commissioner there was “no cause” for Brussels to file claims about the “violation of the rights of sexual minority representatives” because the rights of all groups in Azerbaijan are “protected without any restriction.”
Usubov said the “situation with sexual minorities in our country is no different from [the] situation in most European states.
Echoes Of Chechnya

In Russia, President Vladimir Putin's government has faced calls from the United Nations and Western leaders to investigate the crackdown in Chechnya. But the Kremlin has supported Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov’s denial that suspected gay men were being detained, tortured, and killed.

Meanwhile, scores of traumatized Chechen victims have fled to safe houses in other parts of Russia set up by the St. Petersburg-based Russian LGBT Network.

Most said they feared being detained and tortured again if they stayed in Chechnya.

Many said they could be targeted in so-called honor killings because authorities outed them to their families and have encouraged relatives to “restore family honor.”

The Russian LGBT Network confirms that the safety of some Chechen homosexuals at their safe houses has been compromised by relatives, Chechen police, or others sent to hunt them down and return them to Chechnya.

Boris Dittrich, the advocacy director for HRW’s LGBT Rights program, says Chechen authorities also raided the Grozny homes of gay men who had fled -- threatening to arrest and torture relatives unless they returned.
“They had fled far from home, but it seemed Chechen authorities knew where to find them,” Dittrich says.
Rainbow Railroad, a Toronto-based charity, began working with the Canadian government and the Russian LGBT Network amid reports of the roundups in 2017 to provide a pathway to safety for persecuted gay Chechens.

In the spring, Rainbow Railroad Executive Director Kimahli Powell traveled to Russia to meet victims hiding at Russian LGBT Network safe houses.

Powell tells RFE/RL that the collaboration brought more than 45 Chechen victims out of Russia by early November -- providing travel funds and legal assistance to obtain asylum in Western countries, mostly in Canada.

Powell also confirms that Rainbow Railroad is investigating whether it can help Azerbaijani victims.

But he says the effort is difficult because the government in Baku has barred organizations like Amnesty International, HRW, and LGBT rights groups from working inside Azerbaijan -- forcing contacts to be made through groups operating outside the country.

Outed And Out

Speaking in mid-November, Niko said his life in Azerbaijan's capital had been destroyed and he desperately wanted to escape but that he knew of no locally based organizations that would help.

In the weeks after his release from detention, he was fired from his job and evicted. His family disapproves of homosexuality and refused to help him, he said.

Sympathizers offered Niko temporary sanctuary in Baku to allow him to recover from his trauma, but he knew their help couldn't last forever.

And the abuse at the hands of police continued when he was recognized on the street by patrol officers.
Niko said he didn’t have the money or documents needed to obtain legal residency in neighboring Russia, where he might get help from the Russian LGBT Network.

He said his only option was to flee to Turkey, where he didn’t need a visa, and seek help from an Istanbul-based network that recently has sprung up to assist victims of Azerbaijan's crackdown.
Since his arrival in Istanbul in late November, Niko has been sheltering at one of the network's safe houses while he tries to figure out how and where he can build a new life.

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