Russia Will Finally Investigate The ‘Gay Purge’ In Chechnya

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Russia isn’t known for its enlightened stance on homosexuality or equality for GBLTQ citizens — indeed, Russia’s culture minister was worried the live-action Beauty and the Beast adaptation might qualify as “homosexual propaganda” under a 2013 statue — but even so, it’s finally investigating the reports of human rights violations in Chechnya against gay men.

The Guardian says it confirmed a story seen several months ago in the Russian paper Novaya Gazeta, in which four gay men who had been caught up in the purge were interviewed. They revealed not only then gay men were being rounded up without judicial process or formal charges, but that detainees are being tortured in the concentration camps where they are held. They described beatings and electric shock therapy while they were in custody.

This has not only been traumatizing for individuals, but has thrown families into chaos in a country where homosexuality is taboo. The purge has resulted in closeted men being revealed, the Guardian notes, and that has prompted fears for the safety of their families. Many have fled to Russia and other countries near Chechnya as they desperately seek visas to western countries where they won’t be in danger.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has notably put pressure on Valdimir Putin to investigate what is happening in Chechnya. That’s a complicated proposition though, given Russia’s ties to Chechnya and its own track record with anti-gay legislation that coincided with Putin’s second turn as president. Salon explains that Putin quickly instituted a law “For the Purpose of Protecting Children from Information Advocating for a Denial of Traditional Family Values” in 2013 — that would be the same one that the culture minister thought might apply to Beauty and the Beast. GBLTQ Russians report that this is when things worsened after a few years of relative openness and reprieve. Svetlana Zakharova of the Russian LGBT Network told Salon that after Putin was reelected, “Many open LGBT people were beaten and fired. That’s when the real witch hunts began.”

Further complicating things is Putin’s long history with Chechnya. As Slate explained in 2004, Putin initially rose to power in the late 1990s in part thanks to his strong stance on crushing the Chechen independence movement, which had been struggling off an on since the end of the Soviet Union. Putin appointed Ramzan Kadyrov as president of the Chechen Republic in 2004, and in 2011 he became Head of the Chechen Republic. Kadyrov is also the man who once claimed there are “no gay men in Chechnya” and who has largely been behind the recent persecution.

That said, not all in Moscow are happy with Kadyrov. The Guardian reports that his position is secured largely by his loyalty to Putin, and his success in squelching any further rumblings of Chechen independence. It’s hard to imagine Putin upsetting that delicate arrangement over a homophobic purge that is a more extreme version of the kind of discrimination GBLTQ Russians already face.

Former political science professor Lyosha Gorshkov spoke to the Guardian about an incident in which he was dragged out of a Russian bar and brutally curb stomped. Life in Chechnya is even worse. Chechnya has never been particularly safe for gay men, Gorshkov explaine, but lately things have gotten worse — for heterosexuals, too. Gorshkov claims that accusations and false confessions of homosexuality can be used to blackmail political dissidents.

Still, Time writes that Russia’s human rights ombudsman Tatyana Moskalkova has briefed Putin on the situation, and that authorities are looking into the matter. Whether that will put a stop to the detentions or simply force Kadyrov’s efforts out of the public eye remains to be seen. Given a Russian official’s reaction last month when asked about the situation by Katie Couric, it might be too soon for queer Chechens to get their hopes up.

(Via The Guardian)