Chechnya’s Gay Concentration Camp: What We Know

Chechnya President Ramzan Kadyrov is alleged ti have approved gay death camps - concentration camps designed for gay men.

Reports emerged from international sources over the weekend that Chechnya – formally known as the Chechen Republic – has reportedly begun arresting, detaining, torturing and potentially murdering gay men. According to Novaya Gazeta, Chechnya is detaining gay men “in connection with their non-traditional sexual orientation, or suspicion of such.”

They added, “At the moment, we received information about the arrest of more than a hundred men. Novaya Gazeta has already known the names of three victims, but our sources claim that the victims much more.”

Crime Russia added details to the account reporting:

The law enforcement would usually seize them at home, but sometimes they arrested them at work. Raids were carried out by employees of local departments of internal affairs, Special Rapid Response Team Terek, and Private Security Regiment of the Chechen MIA (also known as the “Neftyanoy Polk” (Rus. “Oil Regiment”), according to the fugitives.

Employees of the abovementioned agencies, as well as those of some other Chechen intelligence agencies, would frame those suspected of homosexuality by contacting them via the Internet. They later abducted and threw them to secret prisons.

Arrested LGBT people were sent to at least 2 such prisons at the end of 2016, according to the Radio Station. One is located in the Town of Argun and the other in the Tsotsi-Yurt village. The Argun prison was organized in a former military commandant’s office, as reported earlier.

It gets worse:

Many detainees were tortured to get them to inform on all the people they knew. Alternatively, prisoners could simply examine their phone messaging. This made the number of victims grow exponentially.

May we remind you that arrests and murders of LGBT people in Chechnya were reported by Novaya Gazeta on April 1. The Newspaper reported on at least 3 such murders and dozens of abductions. Muftiate members and 2 famous local TV anchors who had close ties to Kadyrov were among the victims, too. Head of the Chechen Republic’s Media Relations Officer Alvi Karimov and Head of the Chechen Republic’s Council on Civil Society and Human Rights member Heda Saratova refuted the accusations almost immediately.

oth denied there were either persecution of LGBT people in Chechnya or LGBT people among Chechens. The 2 stated they do not tolerate LGBT people, thus making clear what the national stance on the matter is.

The Chechen government denies all allegations basing their statement in the belief that LGBTQ people do not exist. “[Y]ou can’t detain and harass someone who doesn’t exist in the republic,” they said. “If there were such people in the Chechen republic, law enforcement wouldn’t have a problem with them because their relatives would send them to a place of no return.”

Summarizing the reports, Pink News noted:

The camp was reportedly set up by Chechen forces in a former military headquarters in the town.

The newspaper reports allegations that the Speaker of the Parliament of Chechnya was among officials to visit the site, though the claims have not been substantiated.

The detainees face electric shock torture and violent beatings, while some of them have been held to ransom and used to extort their families.

Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch released a statement about the concentration camps saying in part:

For several weeks now, a brutal campaign against LGBT people has been sweeping through Chechnya.

Law enforcement and security agency officials under control of the ruthless head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, have rounded up dozens of men on suspicion of being gay, torturing and humiliating the victims.

Some of the men have forcibly disappeared. Others were returned to their families barely alive from beatings. At least three men apparently have died since this brutal campaign began.

These days, very few people in Chechnya dare speak to human rights monitors or journalists even anonymously because the climate of fear is overwhelming and people have been largely intimidated into silence.

Filing an official complaint against local security officials is extremely dangerous, as retaliation by local authorities is practically inevitable.

It is difficult to overstate just how vulnerable LGBT people are in Chechnya, where homophobia is intense and rampant.

LGBT people are in danger not only of persecution by the authorities but also of falling victim to ‘honour killings’ by their own relatives for tarnishing family honour.

Chechnya is a federal subject of Russia following the Second Chechen War and falls under Putin’s direct control – particularly since he hand-picked and installed Ramzan Kadyrov as president a decade ago.

Putin meeting with Ramzan Kadyrov

Putin meeting with Ramzan Kadyrov

Knowing this, it’s no surprise that Chechen violence against gay men is occurring as Russia is notoriously anti-LGBTQ. The world saw a glimpse of this not too long ago during the Sochi Olympics.

Under Putin’s regime, LGBTQ people are routinely harassed, assaulted and murdered based solely on their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Popular Russian television actors have even gone so far as to call for Holocaust-era “solutions” to LGBTQ people over the last few years.

These attitudes manifested in laws targeting LGBTQ people in Russia including a 2013 “gay propaganda” law aimed at curbing civil rights discussion. Just this past week Russia banned images portraying Putin as a ‘gay clown’.

That animus appears to have been exported to the ultra-conservative Chechen government.

Former State Department special adviser Paul Goble commented on the situation writing for Euromaidan Press naming the location of one of the camps. “The address of at least one of these concentration camps is known: it is in the former military headquarters in Argun at 996 Kadyrov Street, symbolic in its way,” he said.

International Crisis Group project director Ekaterina Sokirianskaia spoke with The Guardian to confirm at least a portion of the reports coming out of Chechnya and Russia. “I have heard about it happening in Grozny [the Chechen capital], outside Grozny, and among people of very different ages and professions,” she said.

Sokirianskaia  added, “It’s next to impossible to get information from the victims or their families, but the number of signals I’m receiving from different people makes it hard not to believe detentions and violence are indeed happening.”

Reports that the Chechen government is operating at least one or more concentration camps offer an even darker picture of Russia and its satellites than initial international reports published last week and prior portrayed. Add to that the fact that Chechen human rights officials are refusing – on the record – to acknowledge the basic human rights of LGBTQ people.

One such official – Kheda Saratova, a man who sits on President Kadyrov’s human rights council – told a Russian radio station, “I haven’t had a single request on this issue, but if I did, I wouldn’t even consider it. ” He added, “In our Chechen society, any person who respects our traditions and culture will hunt down this kind of person without any help from authorities, and do everything to make sure that this kind of person does not exist in our society.”

This is from a Chechen human rights monitor.

The New York Times described the situation in Chechnya succinctly:

First, two television reporters vanished. Then a waiter went missing. Over the past week, men ranging in age from 16 to 50 have disappeared from the streets of Chechnya.

On Saturday, a leading Russian opposition newspaper confirmed a story already circulating among human rights activists: The Chechen authorities were arresting and killing gay men.

It began, Novaya Gazeta reported, after a Moscow-based gay rights group, GayRussia.ru, applied for permits to stage gay pride parades in four cities in Russia’s predominantly Muslim North Caucasus region, of which Chechnya is a part.

The group had not focused on the Muslim areas. It had been applying for permits for gay parades in provincial cities around Russia, and collecting the inevitable denials, in order to build a case about gay rights and freedom of assembly with the European Court of Human Rights, in Strasbourg, France. It had applied to more than 90 municipal governments. Nikolai Alekseev, a gay rights activist coordinating this effort, told Novaya Gazeta he had chosen this tactic rather than staging risky, unsanctioned gay parades.

The group had not applied for a permit in Chechnya, but in another Muslim region in southern Russia, Kabardino-Balkaria. The mere application there — denied, as usual — had prompted an anti-gay counterdemonstration.

In the restive Muslim regions, Mr. Putin has empowered local leaders to press agendas of traditional Muslim values, to co-opt an Islamist underground. The gay pride parade applications became a galvanizing issue.

“In Chechnya, the command was given for a ‘prophylactic sweep’ and it went as far as real murders,” Novaya Gazeta reported.

As gay men delete their online profiles and sink further into the shadows across Russia and its satellites, the world watches as history attempts to repeat itself. As Mark Twain once said, “History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes.”

Though the current Chechen situation definitely has historical rhymes, there’s nothing poetic about it.

Tim Peacock is the Managing Editor and founder of Peacock Panache and has worked as a civil rights advocate for over twenty years. During that time he’s worn several hats including leading on campus LGBT advocacy in the University of Missouri campus system, interning with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, and volunteering at advocacy organizations. You can learn more about him at his personal website.

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