Back in April, The New York Times reported that Chechen authorities were arresting and killing gay men. Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta first raised the issue of LGBT persecution, suggesting dozens of men were being rounded up, abducted and tortured by the police because of their sexuality.
According to the newspaper, over 100 men between the ages of 16 and 50 had been detained 'in connection with their nontraditional sexual orientation, or suspicion of such.'
Now those who have been silenced are finding ways to speaking out about the abuse they've experienced.
Russian LGBT Network has released a report into the mass abductions and murder of gay men in Chechnya. According to their investigation, which was based on 33 testimonies received from survivors, it's likely dozens of men have either been tortured to death or murdered.
The report was supported by Elena Milashina, the journalist who originally broke the story, and identified the perpetrators as employees of the Department of Internal Affairs. The victims also testify against local police officers, military divisions and the 'Rosgvardia' – the internal military force of the Russian government.
In other words, this is a move from the inside out. And very powerful people are involved. Many of the testimonies refer to Magomed Daudov (also known as 'the Lord'), the spokesperson of the Parliament of the Chechen Republic, indicating his participation in the torture.
One victim testifies in the report:
'One day, all my relatives were informed about the fact that I was detained. 'The Lord' came to us, the chairman of the parliament — Magomed Daudov. We were all set down before the Lord. The Lord approached us, took pictures on his phone, and asked if each of us was gay. We had to answer "yes". This all happened in front of our relatives. He talked to our relatives, saying that we brought disgrace to the nation and to our families. He told them that if they honour the traditions, they must kill us. And that if they did everything, they would not be punished for it."'
Another victim said:
'There was a police raid. They stopped the car we were in to find drugs. They took our company to the police station to question us. I had bracelets on my wrist... and also a leather bag, which a 'straight' man probably wouldn't wear, full of personal belongings for hygiene – a moist towelette and a manicure set. So, they saw this stuff, and I heard the following: 'Are you a faggot? If you are, I'll shoot you right here.' That's what the Head of the District Department of Domestic Affairs (ROVD) in Argun told me. It was sufficient to imprison me.'
Authorities told families that if they killed their gay relatives, they would not be prosecuted for the murders. Many honour killings occurred as a result. One witness recounts the story of a young man who was killed by his father and uncle:
'X – a young man who was caught by militants in March. Was detained in Argun. His father and uncle came to him. The perpetrators showed them the recordings which exposed him as a homosexual. The relatives replied that they would punish the victim themselves. He was taken to the woods and buried there without a funeral.'
The pool of victims grew when captured men were threatened if they didn't share the name of other homosexuals.
Another victim explains:
'They threw me to the floor and beat me. They beat my chest and my face with their feet, and they hit my head against the floor. One of them said: 'Do not beat him until the shock stage, at that point he will stop feeling pain. We don't need that.' They addressed me with female pronouns and demanded that I tell them the names of other gay people I knew. They threatened to kill me if I didn't.'
Those arrested for their sexuality are being treated worse than those in jail for terrorism and drug offences.
Another testimony says:
'We were forced to lie on the floor with our bottoms up, and each person in the cell would hit us with a pipe three times. As the week went by, there were already 18 LGBT people being detained and tortured. The youngest was around 17-years-old, and the oldest about 47. We were not allowed to wash. Some detainees developed open-cut wounds, and the cell smelled like rotten meat.'
The LGBT Network have relocated 64 people to safe housing units located in central parts of Russia. 30 people were moved outside of Russia. The majority remain in Chechnya, unable to leave due to continuous pressure and monitoring from the state.
Click here to sign Amnesty International's petition urging the Russian and Chechen authorities to investigate these abductions and bring those responsible to justice.