A new crackdown on LGBTQ people of Chechnya, an autonomous republic subject to the Russian Federation, has led to arrests, detainments, torture, and killings, according to the Russian LGBT Network,

Survivors have detailed increasingly horrific forms of torture. They recall prisoners raped with “electric shock sticks” and men forced to wear women’s clothing and respond to female names.  Authorities starve and dehydrate the people in their custody, only providing clean water for prayer, as one survivor said.

The Russian LGBT Network has been reporting on the “gay purges” in Chechnya since April of 2017 when reports claimed that LGBTQ people were being held. The government, headed by President Ramzan Kadyrov, denies the allegations. Furthermore, in a 2017 interview with HBO reporter David Scott, Kadyrov said, “We don’t have those kinds of people here. We don’t have any gays. If there are any, take them to Canada.”

He added, “Take them far from us so we don’t have them at home. To purify our blood, if there are any here, take them.”

Kadyrov became president of Chechnya in 2007 with Russian president Vladimir Putin’s approval as an effort to stabilize the region following two wars for Chechen independence. Putin has been known to give Kadyrov significant freedom to rule as he wants despite Chechnya’s receiving frequent condemnations from the international community.

According to Novaya Gazeta, a Russian opposition newspaper and the first to report on the anti-gay crackdown in Chechnya, the purge began after the organization GayRussia sought permits for pride parades in four cities in the North Caucasus. GayRussia did not plan for a parade in Chechnya, but another Muslim province, Kabardino-Balkaria. Still, in Chechnya authorities gave the command for a “prophylactic sweep” of gays in the region.

Few gay men in Chechnya are open about their identities in their everyday lives. “This is equal to a death sentence,” Novaya Gazeta has explained. Therefore, authorities used internet sites to find their victims. A New York Times article tells the story of a man who gives his name as Maksim who was met at his friend’s apartment by agents who bound him to a chair and tortured him to give the names of other gay men he knew.

The new purge began in December 2018. Though reports from the previous waves demonstrated a focus on gay men, it’s clear that women are being targeted as well. In a more recent Times article, the Russian LGBT Network’s director, Igor V. Kochetkov, said that, although the network still has limited information, what they know from survivors shows that “the main difference between the current campaign and the campaign of 2017 is the torture became harsher.”

The Russian LGBT Network is working to evacuate LGBT people from Chechnya and find them safety in European countries and Canada. Of the 140 that had been relocated by January 14th, none were taken in by the United States.

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