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15 January 2019, 11:27

Head of the LGBT network states stiffening of gays' torture in Chechnya

According to victims, mockeries over detained LGBT people in Chechnya are becoming more and more refined: the death of two young men was the result of "monstrous torture", while relatives of those released are forced to punish them themselves and prove it, Igor Kochetkov, the head of the Russian LGBT Network, told "Caucasian Knot".

The "Caucasian Knot" has reported that on January 11, the "Novaya Gazeta" informed about the next wave of persecutions of gays in Chechnya. The newspaper noted the warnings spread in social networks that members of the LGBT community should urgently leave Chechnya. Since the end of December 2018, about 40 people were detained in Chechnya for their alleged or actual non-traditional sexual orientation; two guys were killed, the Russian LGBT Network said on January 14.

In 2016-2017, raids on gays in Chechnya were wavy – the first one lasted from December 2016 to February 2017; and in total three such waves of detentions are known, says the report prepared by the Russian LGBT Network and Elena Milashina, a special correspondent of the "Novaya Gazeta". The report is based on testimonies of the Chechen residents who had been detained and tortured.

The Russian LGBT Network received the first information about new raids on gays in Chechnya after December 20, 2018, Mr Kochetkov told the "Caucasian Knot" correspondent, noting that the situation had deteriorated dramatically: while in 2018, we could state some lull, on New Year's Eve dozens were detained. He did not rule out that the new persecutions were indirectly related to the end of the year – on the eve of the holidays, law enforcers probably tried to earn some money by extortions. "Maybe someone decided to make money on New Year's Eve: they caught one gay, found a large list of contacts, and the wave was on. A similar situation was in 2017: then a man with drugs was caught; his phone had evidence that he was a gay with a lot of contacts – and a wave of detentions was launched. I see some similarity in these campaigns," said Kochetkov.

The press release circulated by the LGBT Network refers to a report published on December 20 within the framework of the OSCE Moscow mechanism. However, Igor Kochetkov did not associate the new wave of raids with the report. "Persecutions and detentions didn't start immediately after the report, but at the end of December: a week gap is too much so that you could talk about a causal link, especially since [the Chechen authorities] knew in advance about the report. I see no connection," said the activist, recalling that in summer of 2018, the release of the PACE's report failed to coincide in time with a new wave of raids on LGBT people.

According to the Russian LGBT Network, a new wave of persecutions began after the administrator of one of the groups on the social network "VKontakte" was detained in late December 2018. In this group, homosexual men living in the republics of Northern Caucasus used to communicate. Those detentions were followed by others, reported to the Russian LGBT Network since early January.

On June 27, 2018, the PACE (Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe) adopted a resolution calling on Russia to investigate the persecutions of LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) people in Chechnya or allow an international human rights organization to do it. The speaker on the topic, the Belgian MEP Pete de Brun, noted that 114 LGBTs had left the Chechen Republic since "the start of the persecution campaign." In response, Ramzan Kadyrov said that the PACE report on gays' persecutions in Chechnya is based on invented stories about human rights violations and "bogus reports of some mass media."

The two killed guys mentioned in the message of the LGBT Network report are "men aged 25 to 35," Mr Kochetkov has specified, refusing to provide any details. There are no official reasons for their death, he has noted.

"It was an illegal detention, which, as far as we know, was not documented in any way. We have no information as to how these deaths were registered and interpreted. But we received confirmation of the deaths yesterday [on January 13], "the head of the LGBT Network told the "Caucasian Knot" correspondent.

Their deaths were a result of cruel torture and mockeries over the detainees, which are becoming more and more sophisticated. "This is monstrous torture," Kochetkov stressed, referring to the stories told by victims. Applications in connection with their deaths have not yet been filed, since "too little time has passed": contacts with people authorized to file such applications have not been established yet, while the Network itself cannot submit such applications. In cases of other people subjected to persecutions, the priority is not to submit applications, but to ensure their safety, the activist has stated.

"There are a small number of people who have already been released; we know that these are very few. They are in the process of evacuation. It is impossible to demand any statements now, people are in danger. This work will be done; but now the task is to ensure their security; and this is much more difficult than even in 2017, as law enforcers are simply tearing off their passports. Because of the cruelty of torture, we are preparing for the fact that those who are released will be in grave physical condition," he said.

If a detained homosexual is released, in most cases, law enforcers demand from his family to commit execution and to prove that it has been committed. If the family turns to rights defenders, and the detainee safely leaves Russia, his relatives become objects of persecution by law enforcers. "There are dozens of confirmations that families of those who have left are regularly summoned to the police 'for conversations.' Of course, they are in danger," Igor Kochetkov has noted.

Attempts to help those who are persecuted without their requests could turn into a "disservice", since relatives of those who want to leave will be persecuted. "We help only those people who ask for help; this is a must. In this situation, it is very dangerous to do good against a person's will, but if they ask and we can help, we do it. Unfortunately, in most cases we are unable to take out families, they are too large; and often we are not able to protect families from danger. But we are trying [to do it] especially when the family supports [the persecuted one]," said Kochetkov.

According to his version, now the flow of gays who want to leave Northern Caucasus has become relatively smaller: since April 2017, more than 150 people have left the region, more than 100 of them left in 2017. Almost all of them are Chechens or residents of Chechnya who were subjected to blackmail by law enforcers. Gays appealed to various human rights organizations, but they almost always redirected the appeals to the LGBT Network. "If appeals were made, for example, to the Amnesty International (AI) or the Human Rights Watch (HRW), then our colleagues redirected the [applicants] to us. These organizations have other functions," said the activist.

Since the end of 2018, the HRW has not received information about new gay persecutions, but the information of the LGBT Network is not in doubt and is credible, Tatiana Lokshina, the HRW's Programme Director in Russia, told the "Caucasian Knot" correspondent.

Persecutions based on sexual orientation in Chechnya have affected not only men: the fate of lesbians and transgender women is entirely in the hands of their relatives, who are no less brutal than law enforcers, says the report of the "Caucasian Knot" entitled "Killed for orientation – the fate of queer women in Chechnya".

The republic's authorities deny the information about persecutions of persons of non-traditional sexual orientation. Djambulat Umarov, the Chechen Minister for National Policy, External Relations, Press and Information, commented on January 14 on the information of the LGBT Network about new raids on gays, calling it a "fantasy". "I can call these words just as a very deep and meaningful fantasy of the LGBT community. It deserves writing a whole novel about the passionate adventures of gays, who for some reason prefer to be oppressed in Chechnya," the RBC quotes the minister as saying.

This article was originally published on the Russian page of 24/7 Internet agency ‘Caucasian Knot’ on January 15, 2019 at 00:32 am MSK. To access the full text of the article, click here.

Author: Oleg Krasnov Source: CK correspondent

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