Graphic new evidence has emerged of the torture of gay men at the hands of authorities in Chechnya. The new evidence comes from the most recent crackdown of the LGBTI community.
Earlier this year new reports revealed Chechnya had conducted another round up of LGBTI people in its ‘gay purge’. Authorities rounded up about 40 people and detained them at the Grozny Internal Affairs Department in the region’s capital. Two people died as a result of torture.
Chechnya, a Russian federal subject in the Northern Caucasus, began its ‘gay purge’ in 2017. It is a highly conservative majority-Muslim society and homosexuality is generally viewed as severely tainting family honor.
But a new report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) revealed the accounts of four men detained. The men were detained between three and 20 days. Police officials kicked them with booted feet, beat them sticks and polypropylene pipes. Three of them were tortured with electric shocks. One was raped with a stick.
First hand accounts
‘They screamed at me. One of them started kicking me, I dropped to the floor, flat on my stomach… Another one then beat me with a stick, from the waist down, he was hitting me very hard for some five minutes,’ said Anzor*, 29.
‘Then they made me kneel on the floor and put metal clips on my thumbs [the wires were hooked to a device delivering electric shocks], he turned the knob [of the device], first slowly and then faster and faster… With every turn, my hands bounced up and excruciating pain went through them…
‘He stopped when I screamed my heart was about to burst. They took the clips off and my hands were heavy and felt dead.’
Anzor described how police beat and humiliated him and Aslanbek in front of the other inmates:
‘They were three or five [police], I don’t quite recall but one of them, Maga, had a stick with a black handle,’ he said.
‘They yelled, “Where are the pansies?” [and] began to humiliate us, verbally, using obscene words, calling us fags, asking which one of us is active, which one passive, whether we derived pleasure [from having sex with a man].
‘And all the inmates were watching… They hit [us] on the head with their sticks… Then, they left but another three officers walked in.
‘They were coming in groups for a long time – smaller groups and bigger groups…[T]hey entertained themselves by mocking us, beating us.’
The other men described being deprived of food and water, with some chained to radiators in blacked-out rooms.
Family honor killings
They all said police interrogated them under torture. Police also demanded they identify other gay men in their social circles, in some cases showing them photographs. Police seized the detainees’ cell phones for the same purpose.
One man said the police handed him over to his family, exposing his sexual orientation and indirectly encouraging his family members to kill him. Some of those interviewed said this happened in at least two other cases. In at least three cases, police demanded large sums of money for the men’s release.
Impunity sanctions torture
‘There wasn’t anything remotely resembling an effective investigation into the anti-gay purge of 2017, when Chechen police rounded up and tortured dozens of men they suspected of being gay,’ said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
‘Impunity for the 2017 anti-gay purge has sanctioned a new wave of torture and humiliation in Chechnya.’
Three of the men said the police shaved off their beards and hair or forced inmates to shave each other’s heads.
Police officers also humiliated them by probing into the details of their lives, using homophobic slurs, exposing them as gay to other inmates, and forcing them to undress. Police also forced several of the presumed gay inmates to clean the toilet and wash floors and doors along a corridor, making it clear to them and the other inmates that the gay detainees were given ‘women’s work’ as a form of humiliation.
Chechen authorities have continued to deny reports of the new wave of persecution.
‘This is an absolute lie… There were no detentions on grounds of sexual orientation in the indicated periods in the Chechen Republic,’ said presidential spokesperson, Alvi Karimov, in January.
Human rights groups and LGBTI advocates have called on Russian authorities to speak out or act against the ‘gay purge’. But Russian authorities have not commented on the allegations nor investigated.
In May 2018, Russia’s justice minister, Aleksander Konovalov, told the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC): ‘The investigations that we carried out… did not confirm evidence of rights’ violations, nor were we even able to find representatives of the LGBT community in Chechnya.’
International outcry has continued over Chechnya’s actions. In November 2018, 16 participating states of the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE) invoked the “Moscow Mechanism”. They also appointed a rapporteur to look into allegations of abuses in Chechnya.
In March, 30 countries supported a joint statement at the UNHRC. The statement expressed deep concern about reports of the persecution and called for a thorough and impartial investigation.
‘Russian authorities should immediately investigate the new wave of torture and humiliation by the Chechen police of men they believe to be gay and, finally, carry out an effective investigation into the purge of 2017,’ Denber said.
‘The investigations should be conducted at the federal level with security guarantees provided to victims and witnesses who come forward, and their families. Otherwise, we can expect further episodes of this depraved abuse.’