In an interview with HBO’s Real Sports reporter David Scott, Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of the Chechen Republic, denied recent allegations that Chechen police have been rounding up, detaining and torturing gay men. “This is nonsense,” he said, “We don’t have those kinds of people here.”
When responding to Scott’s questions about the stories surfacing from gay men who allege they were tortured, Kadyrov said, “They are devils. They are for sale. They are not people.”
Kadyrov became leader of Chechnya in 2006, after the region had been rocked by multiple civil wars and political unrest. He operates the republic as largely autonomous from Russia, as long as he can keep it under control. Under Kadyrov’s governance and strong promotion of Islam, Chechnya has become increasingly socially conservative. It is his interest in boxing that led the HBO show to cover him and his sports initiatives.
Kadyrov’s security has been accused before of human-rights violations, and a former officer of his security forces was convicted of the 2015 assassination of Boris Nemstov, a Russian opposition leader and a critic of Vladimir Putin.
Last month, Russia’s “gay propaganda law” was deemed discriminatory by a European Court, violating the European Convention on Human Rights. The law banned “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations around minors.”
The first reports of Chechen “concentration camps” for gay men appeared in Novaya Gazeta, in early April 2017. The abductions had been going on since February 2017, where men suspected of being gay were rounded up and tortured in an attempt to reveal the identities of other gay men. Since February, more than 100 men have been abducted and three have been reported to be dead. Since the initial story’s publishing, one of the journalists who reported on it has gone into hiding for fear of her life being in danger.
In a story from the New Yorker, some of the men who were abducted and later released described cycles of beatings and interrogations. “Each time Ali was interrogated, the boss demanded that he admit that he was homosexual and give him the names of other gay men. Each time, Ali denied everything.” Ali, one of the men profiled, described other instances of being beaten up for being gay—entrapped by someone, usually over social media, then meeting up with them only to be beaten and blackmailed. In the socially restrictive Chechnya, where queer people are forced into double-lives, blackmail is common. But never before have the beatings been done by the government.
The New Yorker article goes into detail of a Human Rights Watch report, that suggested the raids began in the last week of February, “when a young man was arrested for using drugs. The police found photographs of men on his phone, along with social-media posts and messages that led them to identify him as gay. Under torture, the man reportedly gave up the names of others, and the police began arresting them.”
In the interview with HBO, and in a previous statement by his spokesman Alvi Karimov, Kadyrov denied these raids on gay men because, he asserted, there are no gay men in Chechnya. And if there were, their families would have dealt with them. Several of the men in the New Yorker piece confirm this, that they feared their families would kill them, otherwise known as ‘honor killings.’
Kadyrov suggested sending 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.”
The Russian LGBT Network, based out of Saint Petersburg, has been assisting and evacuating gay men from Chechnya by bringing them to Moscow and then, hopefully and ideally, getting them out of Russia entirely. The network has an entire system set up, starting with getting the men out of Chechnya, giving them psychological evaluations, and setting them up with new SIM cards. Most of the asylum seekers live in fear that Kadyrov’s men will track them and find them.
The rhetoric being used by Kadyrov and people like him, simultaneously denying the existence of gay people entirely but also denying their humanity, strips queer people of any worth. And when something isn’t human, you can justify doing anything to it. You can justify rounding them up, torturing them in small, damp cells and subjecting them to rounds of interrogation. You can release them and pick them up again. And again. And again. If you don’t think they’re people, you can do anything you want to them.
But these people do exist. There are queer Chechens, and they are in desperate need of help and humanity and sympathy and love. You can sign the Amnesty International petition here and get the latest information on the Russian LGBT Network at their website here.