A new website in Russia is encouraging people to ‘report’ LGBTI people to be targeted for torture.
‘Chechnya’s Comeback’, the website says, referring to the local government-sanctioned brutal torture and executions of alleged gay men in the Northern Caucasus.
In the week since the website called, ‘Saw’, launched at least three men have been violently assaulted.
The victims contacted the Russia LGBT Network to report what had happened to them, but there may be many more who are too afraid to speak out.
‘This is terrifying,’ Mikhail Tumasov, chairperson of the Russia LGBT Network, tells Gay Star News.
‘I’ve never seen anything like this.
‘The killing and torturing of gay people, they call it a game.’
But Tumasov wants to be very clear, while it’s a first that homophobic violence is being treated like a game, the website is a part of a trend of anti-LGBTI sentiment in Russia. A trend, he says, is supported by government silence.
Russia’s LGBTI community does not have any legal protections from discrimination and violence. In 2013, President Vladimir Putin signed the ‘gay propaganda law’ and since then the LGBT community has lived in fear of persecution.
The European Court of Human Rights said the law was ‘discriminatory, reinforced stigma and prejudice and encouraged homophobia’.
Pay to find gay people, pay more to get your name taken off
The website allows people to upload photos of people they accuse of being gay with personal information and how to find them.
Organizers plan to make a database of people of gay people, including their addresses and other information.
People will then be able to access the names for a fee: 200 Rubles (US $3) to find personal information.
But if your name is on the database and you want to have it removed, you have to pay a bigger fee: 1500 Rubles (US $23).
‘Saw’ supposedly takes its name from the horror movie franchise of the same name.
The targeting of LGBT people is called a ‘game’ on the website. It has 1 to 31 May listed as the dates for the ‘game’.
For now, the ‘game’ is targeting people in the province of Ufa, in south-east Russia.
The website even boasts how the ‘best 50 homophobes from Chechnya’ are based in Ufa.
While the ‘game’ is based in Ufa, one of the early victims was from nearby Samara.
‘Even though this started in Ufa, that man was in Samara, so someone on the website described him and then people in Samara went to find him and attacked,’ Tumasov says.
Access to ‘Saw’ was blocked recently. But it has continued on social media which concerns Tumasov that the attacks may go national across Russia.
‘I’m sure it will spread quickly. What is frightening to us that this has structure, it has a system,’ he said.
‘It’s the first time we have seen an organised approach to homophobic violence, it’s very dangerous.’
Will ‘Saw’ target Russia’s World Cup?
Tumasov worries ‘Saw’s’ organizers might target foreigners coming to the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
‘We are about to start our World Cup, many foreigners will come and many won’t know what they can face here,’ he says.
‘Some of the fans could be simply LGBTI friendly, they don’t have to be gay, they could be straight and could behave freely. And if there is suspicion they might be followed.’
But Tumasov’s advice for World Cup attendees is the same advice he’s giving to LGBTI people in Ufa.
‘Be very careful about online invitations to date, make sure you have a friend coming with you if you are meeting someone online for the first time,’ he says.
Government must lead by example
Tumasov argues Russia’s inaction on the crimes against gay people in Chechnya has sent a message to ‘Saw’s’ organizers that homophobic violence is acceptable.
‘The Russian LGBT Network is still trying to get a response from the government about what has happened in Chechnya,’ he says.
‘The government has not responded clearly to condemn the violence and we can see how that could be inspiration for homophobic groups.
‘It’s important that for the government to say clearly, that LGBT people are a social group and theyshould be protected.
‘Then such people (homophobes) would follow their example.’
In the meantime the Russian LGBT Network is mobilizing itself and other organizations to support any potential victims.
They are getting lawyers ready to protect victims and encourage people to support any victims.
But he says the solution is in the hands of lawmakers.
‘This (website) is real, not fake,’ he says.
‘As LGBTI people we rely on our surroundings, that’s why I’m talking about creating laws because we don’t have any legal protections.’
We have to save people
Tumasov has been a long time LGBTI advocate in Russia. He has witnessed a lot of homophobia and even been the victim of horrific homophobic violence himself.
But he’s more worried about ‘Saw’ than of anything else he’s seen.
When he first saw the website, he found it ‘terrifying’, but knew he had to spring into action.
‘I was very calm when I saw it, the first thing I thought is we have to do something,’ he says.
‘I thought, “let’s help, let’s save people”.’