Advocates are denying recent reports that Chechnya is ramping up its anti-gay pogrom by opening concentration camps for gay men.
On Saturday, India’s The Week released a report claiming “100 gay men [have been] detained and three killed” in labor camps during the past week. Claiming victims are “being tortured with electric shocks and beaten to death,” the Kochi-based news magazine alleged the detention centers are the first of their kind since the Third Reich detained LGBTQ people in concentration camps.
The shocking allegations were quickly picked up and circulated by a handful of other websites in the four days since the story was originally published, including AlterNet, Back2Stonewall, The New Civil Rights Movement, and Raw Story.
But local activists in Russia say the reports aren’t entirely accurate.
While it’s absolutely true that the Chechen government has targeted and beaten more than 100 gay and bisexual men since its leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, began cracking down on the local LGBTQ community last year, the story is over a year old. Reports of anti-gay concentration camps in Chechnya date back to April 2017.
Since the detentions are being reported as if they were breaking news, advocates say the misinformation could create widespread panic in communities affected by the crisis.
When contacted by INTO, Russian LGBT Network Communications Manager Svetlana Zakharova claimed local activists “do not know why some mass media started to republish information from the last year.”
“There is usually a link to the source of information, which leads to the articles published last year,” Zakharova noted in an email.
Curiously, this weekend’s report from The Week is backdated to last April, even though the URL lists a Sept. 22 publication date. In addition, the story, however, makes reference to BBC reports “about a young Chechen man, Maxim Lapunov, who had escaped illegal detention and torture in Chechnya.”
That event didn’t until five months after the alleged April 2017 publication date. Lapunov, who escaped the detention centers after being repeatedly beaten until he couldn’t stand, came forward in October.
On Tuesday, the Russian LGBT Network released a report with updated numbers on the continuing crisis in Chechnya. Since the Moscow-based newspaper Novaya Gazeta originally broke the story last year, 130 refugees have been evacuated from the semi-independent republic. That figure counts 100 men and 30 women.
Of the LGBTQ people who fled Chechnya, at least seven faced attempted kidnappings.
“In spite of the numerous complaints to the law enforcement agencies, the Russian authorities did not do anything to stop violence,” the community organization noted in a press release. “Moreover, they deny even the existence of LGBTQ people in Chechnya.”
Last year a spokesperson for Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed the Novaya Gazeta reports as “provocation.”
Igor Kochetkov, a board member at the Russian LGBT Network, urged the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) to launch an international investigation into Kadyrov’s crimes after months of silence from the Kremlin.
“On behalf of the Russian LGBT Network, I call of the OSCE member-states to use all the existing mechanisms to protect the victims of the crimes committed on the territory of the Russian Federation and provide these victims with access to justice,” Kochetkov claimed in a September 12 address at the OSCE’s annual conference in Warsaw.
In response to Kochetkov’s plea, representatives from 15 of the OSCE’s 57 member countries — including the United States — demanded answers from the Russian Federation on its investigation into Chechnya’s anti-gay crackdown.
The Kremlin has yet to comply with the request.
Advocates have continued to call for long-overdue accountability by encouraging world leaders to directly condemn Kadyrov’s government. While the U.S. placed financial sanctions on the strongman under the 2012 Magnitsky Act, President Donald Trump has yet to make a formal statement calling out the imprisonment, torture, and killing of gay and bisexual men.
But for now, LGBTQ organizations maintain there is no new crackdown in Chechnya that hasn’t already been reported.
“We’re not aware of a new surge in violence, although we understand incidents of violence and unlawful incommunicado detention still occur,” Ryan Thoreson, an LGBTQ researcher for Human Rights Watch, told INTO in an email.
INTO will update this story should any of the news sites listed above amend their reports.
Image via Getty