Russian advocacy groups report that more than 100 people have left Chechnya in its ongoing purge of the local LGBTQ community.
The Russian LGBTQ Network reports that approximately 125 people fled the semi-independent republic after authorities began arresting, beating, and torturing individuals suspected of homosexuality in 2017. Representatives with the human rights organization claim 49 of the Chechen refugees — or nearly 40 percent — were “detained in Chechnya by law enforcers and questioned.”
These individuals were “forced to confess to homosexuality and spill the data about acquaintances,” the Russian LGBTQ Network claimed.
“Of those who were detained, 37 people [reported] torture and imprisonment for a term of three days to three weeks,” the group continued in statements made to the news website Crime Russia. “Others are partners and family members of the victims, who also received threats.”
Although many of these individuals have sought asylum in foreign countries, some still remain in Russia — where they likely face continued discrimination and persecution.
As INTO previously reported, Chechen purge survivor Zelimkhan Akhmadov was kidnapped by a five-person vigilante mob earlier this month after the Russian LGBTQ Network provided him with a safe house in St. Petersburg. One of the assailants who apprehended the 20-year-old former student was his own father.
While community organizations like Stimul are also offering shelters to refugees hoping to be granted asylum abroad, LGBTQ advocates say more must be done as Russian authorities refuse to recognize the crisis.
“All reports of the use of violence, including those on the part of officials, have been studied and verified,” Valery Maksimenko of the Prosecutor General’s Office said, as Crime Russia originally reported. “The basis for the audit was information in the media about the persecution of people suspected of homosexuality, the killing of at least three citizens.”
“This information was not confirmed,” he added.
In the case of Chechen refugee Maxim Lapunov, Maksimenko claimed there’s likewise no evidence showing he “was illegally detained and tortured.”
Lapunov was the first survivor of the anti-LGBTQ extermination campaign to come forward with details of his abuse. In an October press conference, the 30-year-old claimed he was flogged repeatedly in the “legs, ribs, buttocks, and back” after being captured while selling balloons in the Chechen capital of Grozny last year.
Chechen authorities hoped to beat the names of other LGBTQ people out of him, alleged Lapunov. When he doubled over from the pain, Lapunov claimed his captors would stand him up and begin pummeling him again.
But the Kremlin maintained police “refused to initiate criminal proceedings” due to lack of evidence.
“The investigator’s conclusions fully correspond with the conclusion of the human rights commissioner in the Russian Federation,” Maksimenko said earlier this month after previously claiming investigations “have revealed no gays in Chechnya.”
This is extremely similar to the argument used by Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov to dismiss international criticism about the anti-LGBTQ crackdown. When asked about the reported 100 gay and bisexual men apprehended by police, he called the reports “nonsense,” claiming that Chechnya doesn’t “have those kinds of people here.”
“We don’t have any gays,” Kadyrov added. If there are any, take them to Canada. […] Take them far from us so we don’t have them at home. To purify our blood, if there are any here, take them.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin has also denied the reports, with his spokesman referring to them as “provocation.”
Amid Putin’s meeting with United States President Donald Trump in Helsinki earlier this month, LGBTQ advocates raised awareness about the continuing crisis — as well as Trump’s refusal to acknowledge it — by projecting a message on the side of Finland’s presidential palace.
“Trump and Putin: Stop the crimes against humanity in Chechnya,” urged the Human Rights Campaign.
“Investigate LGBTQ persecution in Chechnya,” continued the message broadcast by the nation’s largest queer advocacy group. “Bring the perpetrators to justice. The whole world is watching. Silence is deadly. #EyesOnChechnya.”