On April 1, the independent news site Novaya Gazeta broke the story that some hundred LGBT people in Russia's North Caucasus republic of Chechnya were being rounded up, tortured and interrogated. The police action in Chechnya, where Kremlin-backed leader Ramzan Kadyrov is in charge, came after the application by a Moscow-based activist for a gay parade permit in multiple Russian cities, including in the North Caucasus (but not Chechnya). Novaya Gazeta confirmed that at least three people had been killed by Chechen government forces during the round-up.
The U.S.-based advocacy group Human Rights First reported on the crackdown on LGBT, noting that a climate of hatred against gays was created by the passage of a law in Russia in 2013 against “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations to minors” widely perceived as a ban on gay life in general. Human Rights First said Chechnya is already noted as a republic with a very poor human rights record, with law-enforcers acting with impunity against marginalized populations, including gays.
The New York-based monitoring group Human Rights Watch stated it had corroborated the information in Novaya Gazeta’s report, but could not provide sources due to fear of reprisals in the intimidating climate in Chechnya.
The Russian LGBT Network documented reports of harassment and beatings from people in Chechnya who called their hotline from March 29-April 2 this year. They also reported assisting five persons to flee Chechnya due to persecution as gays.
Ekaterina Sokirianskaia, Project Director for Russia & North Caucasus for the International Crisis Group, said in an interview with the Russian news site The Insider that she had received reports from very reliable sources recently about the detention of men on suspicion of being gay, based on the claims of police informants. Such injustice could only be stopped by intervention from the federal center, she said.
"The Kadyrov regime is controlled only by Putin, and if the signal comes from the Kremlin, 'stop it, guys,' they will heed it,'" she said.
RFE/RL's Russian Service spoke to three gay Chechen men who gave their personal accounts of their escapes from the abuse they faced in the southern Russian republic, where homosexuality is stigmatized and so-called honor killings carried out by family members are not uncommon.
There has been some disagreement among activists as to whether the place of detention reportedly used for LGBT who are caught in police raids, described as a “secret prison” by a source for RFE/RL should be termed a “concentration camp”. The story of the crackdown has proved so contentious that it even has its own Snopes page, where the editors have concluded it is true.
Western governments took the reports seriously enough to make statements. The U.S. State Department urged Russian federal authorities to “take steps to ensure the release of anyone wrongfully detained, conduct an independent and credible investigation into these reports, and hold any perpetrators responsible.” The EU also called for "prompt, effective, and thorough investigations into the reports" and for "anyone found guilty of or complicit in such crimes" to be prosecuted.
The Chechen government’s threats – and denials – of persecution of LGBT in Chechnya are similar to Kadyrov’s past threats to the liberal Russian opposition, such as the posting of an image of opposition leader and former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and journalist Vladimir Kara-Murza, Jr. in a sniper’s cross-hairs, and denial that it was serious.
Kadyrov has also tacitly sanctioned brutal attacks on journalists covering human rights violations in his republic by remaining silent about them even as Chechen government officials denied any link to the attacks.