by Michael K. Lavers, Washington Blade
A Russian LGBT advocacy group on Monday confirmed a report that gay men in Chechnya have been sent to secret prisons.
Novaya Gazeta, a Russian newspaper, on April 4 reported gay men have been sent to the prisons — which reports have described as “concentration camps” — in the semi-autonomous Russian republic. It said one of them is located near Argun, a town that is roughly 12 miles east of the Chechen capital of Grozny.
Novaya Gazeta said authorities beat the men and tortured them with electric shocks.
The newspaper published pictures of two men who had bruises on their knees and buttocks. Novaya Gazeta said at least three men died inside the prisons.
The newspaper reported the family of one of the men who was arrested “had to urgently” sell their apartment and property to “saved their loved ones.” Gay men were also reportedly forced to leave Chechnya.
“Unfortunately, we can confirm that there is kind of a prison next to one Chechen city where homosexual men are detained,” Svetlana Zakharova of the Russian LGBT Network told the Washington Blade on Monday in response to the Novaya Gazeta article.
Novaya Gazeta on April 1 reported Chechen authorities have arrested more than 100 men in “connection with their non-traditional sexual orientation, or suspicion of such.” The Russian newspaper said at least three of the men who were arrested were later killed.
The Russian LGBT Network has established a hotline that Chechens who feel threatened by the arrests can call anonymously. Zakharova told the Blade her organization has received more than 20 requests “for help.”
“The number of requests is growing,” she said. “We have already evacuated some people.”
Rex Tillerson urged to ‘speak out forcefully’ against arrests
The State Department last week described the arrests as “troubling” in a statement it sent to the Blade. It also urged the Russian government to investigate them.
A spokesperson for the Russian government has said the arrests are “a question of law enforcement agencies.” Ali Karimov, a spokesperson for Chechnya’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, told a Russian government news agency in a statement that it is “impossible to prosecute those who are not in the republic.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is scheduled to travel to Moscow on Tuesday.
Human Rights First and the Human Rights Campaign have both urged him to publicly condemn the arrests while in the Russian capital. OutRight Action International has also called upon international institutions and foreign governments “to pressure Russian authorities to intervene to immediately stop the abuse.”
“The Kremlin has dismissed these reports, saying that those who were suffering could ‘file official complaints and go to court,’ avenues that are highly unlikely to yield positive results in a region without a strong track record in the rule of law,” said HRC President Chad Griffin in a letter he sent to Tillerson on April 4. “I therefore write to urge you to make clear to your Russian counterparts that such lawless detentions, arrests, torture and murders are unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”
Human Rights First has launched a petition that urges Tillerson to “speak out forcibly against these horrific human rights abuses during his upcoming visit.”
“The State Department has called on Russia to investigate these abuses, but Secretary of State Tillerson can do more,” wrote Human Rights First in an email it sent to supporters on Monday. “As he travels to Russia this week, he should publicly demand that the Russian government bring the perpetrators of these horrific acts to justice.”
“The United States must remain a beacon of hope and freedom — but it cannot do so if our leaders are silent in the face of gross human rights violations,” it added.
A State Department spokesperson on Monday declined to comment on the Novaya Gazeta report that Chechen authorities have sent gay men to “concentration camps.” The spokesperson instead referred the Blade to a statement that Acting Spokesperson Mark Toner released on April 7.
“We are increasingly concerned about the situation in the Republic of Chechnya, where there have been numerous credible reports indicating the detention of at least 100 men on the basis of their sexual orientation,” said Toner. “Some reports indicate many of those arrested have been tortured, in some cases leading to death. We categorically condemn the persecution of individuals based on their sexual orientation or any other basis.”
“We are deeply disturbed by recent public statements by Chechen authorities that condone and incite violence against LGBTI persons,” he added. “We urge Russian federal authorities to speak out against such practices, take steps to ensure the release of anyone wrongfully detained, conduct an independent and credible investigation into these, reports and hold any perpetrators responsible.”