We need to talk more about Chechnya.

Two terrified boys are forced out of a parked car by members of a gang who taunt them with the question: “Were you kissing?”. A young lesbian is dragged from a car on a road in the middle of the night, a paving stone is dropped on her head. A captured man is heard screaming for them to stop as he is raped. These are just some of the disgusting “trophy videos” which have come out of the Russian province of Chechnya over the last few years made by people who hunt down and terrorise members of the LGBT community.

We need to talk about Chechnya.  

These harrowing videos were broadcast recently on BBC Four as part of the documentary “Welcome to Chechnya: The Gay Purge”.

The first reports of a supposed Gay-Purge in Chechnya surfaced in April 2017, when a Russian opposition newspaper ran a story which reported that since February of that year, over 100 men had been detained, tortured and at least three had died, having been arrested by the Chechnyan Police. The plight of the LGBT people of Chechnya has long been a cause for concern among human rights organisations. Chechnya is a traditionally conservative Islamic society where homophobia is rife, and homosexuality is a taboo subject. It has become more increasingly conservative under the leadership of President Akhmad Kadyrov and his son, the current leader, Ramzan Kadyrov. As the leader of the Chechnyan republic, Russian President Vladimir Putin has empowered local leaders to impose their identification of Muslim values, which Kadyrov has done – to the extreme. It was reported that Kadyrov wanted the LGBT community to be eliminated by May 26th, 2017.

It’s been reported the police have used entrapment schemes to lure their victims into their traps. Luring them on a date using popular dating apps; beaten and humiliated. They then produce a recording and use this to blackmail money in return for silence. Those arrested have been put through a horrific ordeal. Witnesses have described them as being beaten, tortured by electricity, mocked, insulted and even raped – all to make them reveal the names and locations of other gay people that they know.

In August 2017, Russian Pop-Singer Zelim Bakaev travelled to Grozny in Chechnya to attend his sister’s wedding. He was reportedly arrested by the Special Rapid Deployment. It’s been widely reported that Bakaev was gay, and this was the reason for his arrest. A video was released in September 2017 supposedly with Bakaev reporting that he was in Germany, but it was apparent that this had been staged. In October 2017, it was reported that Bakaev had died as the result of torture by the Chechnyan police.

Zelim Bakaev has now been missing for two years and ten months.

Rescue missions are undertaken by brave activists to get people out of Russia. The Rainbow Railroad is one of the main international organisations that have helped people escape. Working with the Russian LGBT Network to find safe houses and fund their evacuation.

Homosexuality has always been an issue in Russia. It has been criminalised and decriminalised many times during the state’s history. In 2013, Russia introduced it’s very own Section 28, officially banning propaganda for non-traditional sexual relationships. This law has been openly discriminatory towards the LGBT community and has been seen as one of the reasons why the Kremlin has not been quick enough to respond about the persecution of people in Chechnya. Moscow has openly said they have no reliable information about any problems in the area. A flat-out denial, and a flat-out lie. They hadn’t seen the images that had surfaced on social media.  

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International condemnation was not instant. It took until March 2019 for several countries at the 40thsession of the Human Rights Council, issued a joint statement calling for a “swift, thorough and impartial investigation to the alleged persecution” and accountability for those people. This statement was signed by the United Kingdom, but unsurprisingly not by the United States, who refused to sign on to the statement. From Trump’s administration, would we expect anything less?

Many celebrities and LGBT activists such as Troye Sivan and Ellen DeGeneres also voiced their condemnation. Germany, Lithuania, The Netherlands and Canada have already offered Asylum to over 150 people. I cannot find any record for the United Kingdom. 

We need to talk more about Chechnya.

I’ve said before that the fight for equality still goes on and unfortunately the persecution of our community still goes on. They are being persecuted for being themselves. It’s hard for people living in more liberal societies to get their head around some of the things that are going on in Chechnya. However, thanks to Nationalism and religious fundamentalism, members of our community are continuing to be made scapegoats. As one of the attackers in one of the videos which have surfaced tells the poor scared kid; “All our problems are because of people like you”.

Not since Hitler, have we seen such top-down oppression and attempt to eradicate a community.

In a more liberal society, like the UK, many of us haven’t faced persecution like this. For most of us, we live a more privileged life where we can love who we want and be who we want. In Chechnya, openly loving who you want to love can get you killed. Not since Hitler, have we seen such top-down oppression and attempt to eradicate a community.

We cannot sit back and let this happen, we must stand together with our fellow brothers and sisters. In parts of Europe, politics and society is moving further towards the right, and that is dangerous for our community. We are seen as non-traditionalists – a problem that needs a solution. We are seeing open oppression not only in other parts of Russia, but we are also seeing it in Poland. Certain areas of Poland have declared themselves as LGBT Ideology-Free Zone which effectively signals exclusion for members of the community. It’s not enough for us to sit back and say that “this is what Russia has always been like, we can’t change that”. We may not be able to, but we have a voice as a community to help our leaders see that this is also not right and fight for the cause on the world stage. By doing this we are in effect becoming complicit with those that are targeting us. We need to talk about it more. If we rest on our laurels and fail to respond to the call for action, then we risk rolling back the rights that we have worked so hard to get, and in doing that, we are letting those down who want their freedom. If you do anything this weekend, spend five minutes researching what is going on – because once you do, you will not be able to forget it so easily. 🏳️‍🌈

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