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Gay man who fled Chechnya for ‘normal life’ in France talks of his experiences

Gay man who fled Chechnya for ‘normal life’ in France talks of his experiences

An Amnesty International protest outside the Russian Embassy in Paris on Friday

A 26-year-old gay man who managed to escape Chechnya and who this week was granted an emergency visa to stay in France has opened up about his experiences.

Azmad (not his real name), spoke to AFP on the promise of anonymity.

‘If it becomes known, you are in danger, and so are those close to you. People are killed over rumors there,’ he said.

Russian independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta was the first to reveal that authorities in the country were arresting and detaining gay men in the Russian Muslim-majority region in March.

Human Rights Watch issued a 42-page report in late May, based on interviews with men who had been detained and released, detailing the ‘gruesome ordeal’ that they faced in Chechnya.

It said that between over 100 men had been arrested, with many tortured to reveal the names of other gay men. There mobile phone contacts and computers were also often trawled.

Some of them were electrocuted to give up names. Many were turned over to their families after being detained for days or weeks, and told that they had bought shame on their families.

At least three are thought to have died – one as a result of the treatment he received while being detained, and two at the hands of their families in so-called honor killings.

‘Gay people began to disappear’

Azmad said he at first managed to escape to Moscow, before being allowed to move to France last week, where he is now intending to seek asylum.

‘At home, I didn’t know calm and tranquility.’

He said gay people in Chechnya live in constant fear and that few take the risk of meeting up with others online. He spoke of one young man who was found naked and bound after being raped and then killed.

‘Gradually, gay people began to disappear. It was systematic.’

Azmad says that despite trying to be ‘very discreet’, a photo of him was found on someone’s phone. He was questioned, but it was a brief and non-violent interrogation.

A few days later, police came again and demanded he unlock his phone for them.

It was then he decided staying in the Chechnya was took risky for him.

‘It was going to be obvious who I am.’

‘Begin to live a normal life’

He managed to escape to Moscow, without telling anyone – including his family – why he was leaving.

After hiding in Moscow for two months, he was able to get an emergency humanitarian visa for France, with the help of SOS Homophobia and Chechnya Emergency – two groups working to help gay men in Chechnya.

Azmad says he now wants to try and rebuild a ‘normal life’ away from Chechnya.

‘I am going to try to forget … become a normal man, that is, begin to live a normal life, a life that normal people live.’

Chechen authorities have consistently denied that they are carrying out a purge of gay men. When first confronted with the reports in March, a spokesperson for Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said they couldn’t be true because gay people did not exist in the region.

Governments worldwide have pressured Russia to investigate and bring criminal charges if they find evidence of wrongdoing. So far, Russia has said that it is unable to find any evidence of gay men being arrested and tortured.

Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov said Tuesday there were ‘no facts‘ to back up the reports.

On Friday, protests took place at several Russian embassies around the world to bring more pressure on Russia to act.

This included one organized by Amnesty International in France.

H/T: France24