As many as 40 gay men and lesbians have allegedly been illegally detained in Chechnya, a republic inside the Russian Federation.
The Russian LGBT Network is warning that Chechnya has resumed its extrajudicial campaign of persecution of LGBT people, with at least several dozen people detained since December.
“We know that around 40 people were detained, both men and women,” Russian LGBT Network spokesperson Igor Kochetkov said earlier this week.
“At least two people died as a result of tortures. We also know that the detentions are conducted by the law enforcement officers, and the victims are detained in Argun.”
A secret prison camp in Argun was identified during the previous wave of persecution – one of six different locations that have been alleged to be used to detain sexual minorities in Chechnya.
Kochetkov said authorities were making efforts to silence victims even after their release.
“The local police makes every effort to prevent victims from leaving the region or applying to the courts in the future,” Kochetkov said.
“They take away documents, they threaten the victims with the criminal proceedings against them or their close ones, and they force them to sign empty forms.”
According to the group, this new wave of persecution began after authorities captured the administrator of a gay group on the social media platform Vkontakte, the Russian equivalent of Facebook, and then exploited their contacts.
The first wave of homophobic persecution in Chechnya began at the beginning of 2017 with gay men held and tortured in several black sites across the republic.
Some were made to pay large sums of money to secure their release while others were shamed in front of their relatives and then handed over to their family members. It is alleged that some of these men were then murdered by their families.
Authorities reportedly used their captives’ mobile phones to lure and entrap their contacts, drawing further people into their web of torture and extortion.
In early April the independent Russian news publication Novaya Gazeta reported of this first wave that as many as a hundred gay men had been imprisoned, with at least three killed, under the headline “Honour Killings.”
The newspaper later reported that the Speaker of the Chechen Parliament Magomed Daudov was personally involved in chastising some of these captives in front of their families.
Chechnya’s strongman leader Ramzan Kadyrov has repeatedly denied that such a campaign is being carried out in his country, which is an independent republic within the Russian Federation.
However, there have been numerous reports of authorities and vigilantes in Chechnya enforcing Islamic religious standards on people outside of the law for many years.
Women who go out in public without covering their hair have reported being shot at with paintball guns by men in vans, and around 20 people were detained on New Years Eve for buying or selling alcohol in the capital Grozny.
Homosexuality has been legal inside the Russian Federation since 1993 despite Vladimir Putin’s government voting to ban public displays or discussion of LGBT related expression or content since 2013.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe has investigated the reports of the initial campaign of persecution of gay men in Chechnya in 2017 and found the allegations credible based on the testimony of witnesses and survivors, calling them “clear” and “irrefutable.”
Amnesty International has now added its voice to the campaign to stop homophobic persecution in Chechnya, releasing a statement earlier today.
“We are calling for the international community to take action to protect gay and lesbian people in Chechnya, and to increase the pressure on the Russian authorities to properly investigate these horrendous crimes,” Amnesty spokesperson Marie Struthers said.
“The fact that there has still not been any justice for the 2017 attacks show that gay and lesbian people in Chechnya cannot rely on the Russian authorities to protect them. The lack of official investigation has emboldened the Chechen authorities to launch a new wave of persecution, safe in the knowledge that the Russian government will back up their denials and obfuscation.”
The Russian LGBT Network says it has assisted in the evacuation of 150 people out of Chechnya since April of 2017 with around 130 of those finding sanctuary outside of Russia altogether.