“They will kill you anyway, be it family or strangers”: gay about life in Chechnya and flight from Russia
    A silhouette of a man. Photo: REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

    A homosexual from Chechnya, who left Russia after detention, told the "Caucasian Knot" how people with non-traditional sexual orientation live in the republic, and what the fate of his acquaintances from the LGBT community was after the start of mass raids on gays. According to the man, he managed to avoid torture, but his close friend was cruelly tortured by law enforcers, and his three familiar men were killed.

    According to the Russian LGBT Network, in late December 2018, a new wave of gays' persecutions was launched in Chechnya – at least 40 people were detained for their alleged or actual non-traditional sexual orientation. Each detainee is forced to give out to law enforcers information about his acquaintances; and they began associating all those who want to leave the republic with the LGBT community, the sources of the "Caucasian Knot" have reported.


    "Caucasian Knot" (CK): Magomed, are you a native of Chechnya? When did you realize your sexual orientation?

    Magomed (M): I was born in Chechnya; and my relatives remain there – my mother, father and sisters. I realized my sexual orientation after the first homosexual experience, at the age of 18.

    CK: Before the persecutions began, did any of your relatives and friends know about your orientation?

    M: No, they didn't. Only those with whom I met, so to say, "same topic friends" knew. There were no conflicts in the family about this.

    CK: How did you communicate with people "outside the topic"? Wasn't there any fear that a wide range of people would become aware of your homosexual relationships?

    M: Of course, it was scary. Homosexuals are afraid to live not only in Chechnya, but in general in Russia. Only in Chechnya, unlike other regions, where you can be beaten up, mutilate, take away something, in Chechnya a homosexual is under threat of death. They will kill you, if not your own people, then, strangers; and no one will declare the blood feud, because they've killed a "fagot, pederast", thus, they did good to the family.

    I refrained from getting acquainted with "outsiders"; I knew what it was fraught with from the experience of other young guys who came across homophobes. At first, young people got acquainted at the Mail.ru; then, various mobile applications appeared with chat rooms. After dating, they made an appointment, and there they caught the guys. They were beaten up, filmed to the camera and blackmailed. The killings began just recently.

    A man in traditional costume holds a rifle during a wedding ceremony for 200 couples dedicated to the 200th anniversary of the Chechen capital on October 5, 2018. Photo: REUTERS / Said Tsarnaev

    CK: Was it difficult for you to start relationships and hide them from prying eyes?

    M: Very difficult. Imagine that a family of "naturals" has to hide their relationships and their children, not to appear in the society. We, gays, have the same relationships, with the exception of children. We had to hide them from relatives, from colleagues, and from friends, and from fellow students. It is difficult and painful: for example, we had to invent why a stranger was sitting at our family holiday.

    CK: When has your sexual orientation ceased to be a secret to others?

    M: After law enforcers caught me.

    CK: How many other gays did you know in Chechnya by then?

    M: Everyone who was later saved by the LGBT Network.

    CK: It's about 150 people, as the head of the LGBT Network, Igor Kochetkov, said.

    M: Exactly.

    He survived only due to the fact that he was allowed to pray – during the ablutions he was able to sip some water.

    CK: Prior to your detention, had you heard about persecutions; and about prisons for homosexuals in Chechnya?

    M: Since the very start of repressions against homosexuals, our entire group knew about them. Homosexuals, especially in Chechnya, are a fairly solid and strong community. We can only be ourselves with those like we are; therefore the links [among LGBT people] are very stable.

    When the first information [about persecutions] appeared, I immediately sent it to my [acquaintances], to whom I could. Some people, as is usually the case, were sceptical about the messages, say, I hide very well; nothing will happen to me. And then the torture began.

    Maxim Lapunov, a native of the Omsk Region, was the first to openly report that he was detained in Chechnya on suspicion of homosexuality. It happened on October 16, 2017; he spent 12 days in the basement of the criminal investigation department of the Chechen Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA), where he was beaten up. Later, Lapunov had to leave Russia because of threats. On December 24, 2018, the "Novaya Gazeta" published proofs of keeping Lapunov in the law enforcers' basement. Besides, according to the newspaper, Lapunov told about two Chechens who had been kept there for more than 40 days on suspicion of involvement in the murder; late, they were found dead. According to Chechen law enforcers, these men were killed while attempting to attack law enforcers; however, it follows from the forensic reports and body inspection protocols that both were shot dead at close range in the back of the head.

    CK: Are there people among those close to the Chechen leadership who successfully hide their homosexuality?

    M: Yes. I know them. They work quite normally.

    CK: Do the families, who have independently dealt with their gay relatives, try to hide this fact from the society by explaining their disappearance by departure, or are they more often openly saying that they were killed?

    M: No one openly raises this topic. And no one will talk about this with the family. The death of a person has already cleared up the kin, Chechens say. And if you remind about this, then, you'll have to answer for your words.

    CK: Does your family know about your sexual orientation?

    M: The male part thereof doesn't know. If they did, I wouldn't be here.


    CK: How exactly did your persecution begin? Was this related to some specific incident, for example, did a law enforcer take away someone's mobile phone with photos?

    M: I was given out under torture. In the spring of 2017, one of the homosexuals in inadequate state was detained by the police. It's worth noting that in Chechnya, it is absolutely forbidden to [local residents] to drink alcohol. A personal correspondence with a lover and photos with him, as well as an extensive database of phones, was found in the young man's phone. My contact was not there, since I only gave my address and telephone number to a very narrow circle of people; but they reached me through another detainee, who was captured under the same database. I was stopped at one of the posts of Grozny when checking documents; they took me to a police department. After a short while, they let me go, but set a condition: I must disappear from Chechnya, and, preferably, from Russia.

    For reasons of security, the interlocutor did not voice out the circumstances of his release; therefore, the "Caucasian Knot" did not ask about any further details.

    Akhmad Kadyrov Avenue at the background of the mosque 'Heart of Chechnya' and skyscrapers in Grozny. Photo: REUTERS / Maxim Shemetov

    CK: Did you manage to escape torture?

    M: Yes, this did not happen to me, but they tortured my close friend. For two weeks he was kept in the basement, beaten up, tortured with electric current, and was not given any food or water. He survived only due to the fact that he was allowed to pray – during the ablutions he managed to sip some water.

    CK: Was he officially charged with something?

    M: He was tortured for being homosexual; that was the charge. No criminal or administrative case was opened against him; he was just tortured.

    There were occasions when cases were brought against several homosexuals. This was done for blackmail: they say, we'll put you in jail, or kill you as a terrorist. But, as far as I know, not a single case reached the court. Mostly [these people] had tolerant families; parents paid no attention to their son's sexual orientation. When law enforcers understood that it was useless to tell the family, they frightened them with criminal prosecution, but [as a result, these people] were killed.

    CK: Was your friend alone in that basement?

    M: By using his telephone, law enforcers reached three more people, one of whom, by the way, was not a gay. What happened to them, I don't know. After my friend was released, we quickly left.

    CK: Do you know any specific names and positions of the people, who tortured your friend and other acquaintances? What is their position in the society, what level of positions are held by those who organize raids and torture?

    M: I don't want to voice it out now. But Igor Kochetkov has the data.

    CK: You said that some detainees were killed. Who are these people?

    M: I know about three murdered homosexuals: two young guys, and an older person. The latter was tortured and beaten up; as a result, he died; and his body was just given out to relatives. The other guy is a member of a wealthy family in Chechnya, which is in (power). He was beaten up half to death. Having found out who he was, law enforcers brought him to his relatives and gave him away, saying: "deal with him yourself." The family beat him to death. The third homosexual was beaten, taken to his home, where he died – the ambulance was unable to help.

    Chechen law enforcers apply "monstrous torture" to those gays detained during the latest raid; and force the relatives of the released ones not only to commit executions, but also to prove the fact of committed execution, Igor Kochetkov, the head of the Russian LGBT Network, told the "Caucasian Knot". According to sources in Chechnya, one of the detainees was returned to his relatives without a beard, with his head shaved and dressed in women's clothes.

    CK: It is known that many detainees had to pay law enforcers for silence and release; some spoke of systematic extortions. Do you know what amounts were gays forced to pay?

    M: Differently. In May 2017, it was about 200,000-300,000 roubles, sometimes reaching 500,000. It depended on the level of human's wealth – what position he held, where he worked. You can't take off pants from a naked one. If it came to the family, then, they already looked at the family's welfare.

    CK: Why have they let you go?

    M: I won't answer this question.

    CK: When did you decide to turn to the LGBT Network?

    M: After the release of my friend. We immediately contacted one of the employees, with whom we still maintain good relations, and he said: urgently take your passports, nothing more, and fly to Moscow. Within a week we moved to Makhachkala, and from there we flew to Moscow.

    CK: Have they applied to any governmental bodies; for example, to the Prosecutor's Office?

    M: Are you crazy? [Laughing]

    Security officers in Grozny. Photo: REUTERS / Eduard Kornienko

    CK: Were there any difficulties in terms of moving? Did you take any things? Or have you abandoned everything?

    M: We had only hand luggage – a sports bag with the most necessary thing: trousers, a t-shirt and a toothbrush. We didn't go on a tour, we ran away from the country.


    CK: Now you are in one of European countries. Did you manage to get political asylum?

    M: I was lucky: two weeks after arrival, I was received by the Consul General of the country where I am, and documents [about obtaining political asylum] were immediately ready.

    CK: What's up with your friend?

    M: We flew to different countries, but neighbouring ones. He is Ok.

    CK: Are you afraid that someone will chase you abroad?

    M: Of course. The persecution is no longer carried out by Chechen law enforcers, but by members of the Chechen Diasporas. If they find out that you're a gay, they can beat up and kill you. The most famous case of persecution is the story of Movsar Eskerkhanov.

    In September 2017, the American edition name The Time published an article about Movsar Eskerkhanov, a Chechen native, who went to Germany several years ago. Eskerkhanov, who called on Chechen gays "not to be afraid of anyone," became the first Chechen native to openly declare his homosexuality, the BBC Russian Service has noted. In November, 2018, Eskerkhanov asked for forgiveness from the leadership of Chechnya on the air of the Chechen TV channel, explaining that he had been compelled to publicly admit his homosexuality by Western journalists, who were aiming to "disgrace the Chechens". Later he called his apologies to the Chechen authorities as forced.

    CK: If the situation changes for the better, would you like to return to Russia and, specifically, to Chechnya?

    M: Of course, I want to return to my home. I'm here alone, I have no one. It's very difficult to break away from your family and friends, to leave for the lifetime. The only thought that I may not see my relatives at all is killing. I keep in touch only with the female part of the family. The women are sheltering me: they say that I'm working in Europe.

    CK: Does your family know about your sexual orientation?

    M: The male part doesn't. If they did, I wouldn't be here.

    On December 20, 2018, a special report was published within the framework of the OSCE Moscow Mechanism. It treats the information about enforced disappearances, torture, extrajudicial executions, pressure on human rights defenders and persecutions of gays in the republic as indisputable facts. The report confirms the fact of systematic mass detentions in Chechnya, illegal detentions in "secret prisons" and torture. The report also states the involvement of Chechen law enforcers in persecuting people.

    CK: The reaction of the authorities and the power block in Chechnya to homosexuals is well known. You say that the society is also extremely negative, but women are tolerant of your sexual orientation ...

    M: [Women] have humbled. They are more merciful than men; and for them I, first of all, am a son and a brother, not a gay. They would not want to lose a relative. One's sexual orientation is not a reason to kill.

    CK: How do you explain the fact that in Chechnya, some of show business stars, who have the reputation of homosexuals, are welcome?

    M: They are not Chechens. Firstly, they are brought in as media persons. Secondly, in this way they are denying the fact that they are pursuing and killing gays.

    CK: What actions would you recommend homosexuals to avoid in Chechnya?

    M: The advice is the same: to leave Chechnya.

    The history of kidnappings, torture and murders of gays in Chechnya has affected not only men. The fate of a woman of non-traditional sexual orientation is in the hands of her relatives, who are no less cruel than law enforcers, according to the "Caucasian Knot" material "Killed for orientation – the fate of queer women in Chechnya". Chechnya is not the only region, where gays have special attention from law enforcers. Cases are known of recruiting gays through blackmail in Dagestan.

    CK: How to deal with persecutions by relatives and Diaspora members?

    M: Here, in Europe, you can "not expose yourself" and not give your name to everyone. We go there, where there is secular society.

    CK: Can it happen that ill-wishers tell the Diaspora that there is a Chechen homosexual living next to them?

    M: I don't exclude it. But [this is possible] only if the LGBT Network gives out the whereabouts, which is a secret. The Diaspora may find out that, for example, a Chechen gay has entered Canada. But Canada is very large…

    This article was originally published on the Russian page of 24/7 Internet agency ‘Caucasian Knot’ on January 23, 2018 at 04:12 pm MSK. To access the article in Russian, click here.