Two killed, dozens arrested as Chechnya renews crackdown on gay people

Security forces in the Russian region of Chechnya have again cracked down on gay people, killing two and applying tactics once used against Islamist terrorists to find and arrest dozens of others, a Russian rights group said in a report issued Monday.

>> Andrew E KramerThe New York Times
Published : 15 Jan 2019, 07:32 AM
Updated : 15 Jan 2019, 07:32 AM

Since late last year, two gay men have been killed and about 40 men and women who are either homosexual or suspected of being homosexual have been detained in a makeshift prison, according to the rights group, the Russian LGBT Network.

Though Russia decriminalised homosexuality during the breakup of the Soviet Union, police in Chechnya have periodically detained gay people in extrajudicial arrests without repercussions from federal authorities.

The region’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, was the beneficiary of an arrangement with the Kremlin to keep the peace in the aftermath of two wars by Chechen rebels for independence in the late 1990s and early 2000s: In exchange for his loyalty to Moscow, Kadyrov was granted wide leeway to rule as he wished at home.

He has promoted the strict observance of Islam in the predominantly Muslim region, and repeatedly denigrated gay people. Amid accusations of an anti-gay pogrom in 2017, he said it would be impossible for police to persecute gay people because there were none in his region.

Nonetheless, three men died after a mass roundup of gay people that year. Then, police detained more than 100 men and tortured many with electrical shocks while asking them to reveal the identities of their partners or others in the deeply closeted gay community in Chechnya, according to Human Rights Watch and interviews with former detainees.

The latest report by the LGBT Network could not be independently corroborated, but Amnesty International issued a statement Monday supporting the group’s findings.

“News that the authorities have resumed the crackdown is absolutely spine-chilling,” Marie Struthers, a regional director at Amnesty, said in the statement. “With lives in jeopardy, there is an urgent need for an international response.”

A spokesman for Kadyrov, Alvi Karimov, told the Interfax news agency that the new report contained not “1 percent of reality,” and that “no arrests based on sexual orientation took place.”

In rounding up closeted gay people in Chechnya, the security services have employed methods used to unravel networks of Islamist terrorists and pacify the region over the past decade, including, rights groups say, torture and pressuring the family members of suspects.

Arrests, though, had tapered off after foreign governments and the United Nations raised concerns following the 2017 pogrom. Since then, the Russian LGBT Network has helped more than 140 Chechen gay people emigrate to European countries and Canada. So far, none have received asylum in the United States.

The latest wave began in December, when police detained the moderator of an online chat room for gay people, who had many contacts in the community, Igor Kochetkov, director of the LGBT Network, said in a telephone interview.

He said that local police may have started the roundup opportunistically, after having stumbled on this community without an order from senior officials. “For now, we don’t have much information,” Kochetkov said. “What we have is verified and sufficient to say a new wave has begun.”

In the latest roundup, he said, several male detainees have reported being sexually assaulted with police nightsticks, something that had not been widespread after the 2017 arrests. “The main difference between the current campaign and the campaign of 2017 is the torture became harsher,” he said.

The LGBT Network, based in St Petersburg, operates a hotline to help gay people. It also gathers information from those who have emigrated but remain in touch with acquaintances in Chechnya.

© 2019 New York Times News Service

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