Over a month after initial reports about concentration camp-like conditions in Chechnya, a new report from Human Rights Watch released on Friday indicates that top Chechen government officials have had a hand in the mass anti-LGBTQ purge that has reportedly seen hundreds of gay and bisexual men detained, tortured, and even killed.
The report, based on interviews with dozens of torture victims, journalists, and activists, implicates Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov for the "unprecedented" crackdown, and claims that the purge began as early as February. According to HRW, the purge follows Kadyrov's playbook for dealing with "undesirable" groups, such as drunk drivers, drug users, and political dissidents.
The Chechen law enforcement and security officials allegedly began rounding up gay and bisexual men or even those thought to be gay in February, starting with a man who police picked up for being "under the influence of a euphoria-inducing controlled substance." After going through his phone, police determined he was gay, and identified other gay men based on what they found as well as information that the man gave while under torture.
This information then reportedly traveled up to Magomed Daudov, speaker of the Chechen parliament, widely considered Kadyrov's second-in-command.
"Most of the former detainees interviewed by Human Rights Watch reported hearing the police who held and abused them refer to Daudov and to orders he allegedly issued about violence against gay men," the report says. Three of the interviewees also said they saw Daudov at detention sites, watching as police carried out beatings.
While homophobia has run rampant in Chechnya for years, HRW said in the report, it cannot explain the government's involvement in the anti-LGBTQ purge.
"People still carry out, or threaten to carry out, 'honor killings' to 'cleanse' perceived stains to their family’s honor, including against young women suspected of promiscuity and family members who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender," the report says. "However, longstanding societal homophobia does not explain the 2017 anti-gay purge. Rather it was ordered and conducted by officials in Chechnya."
According to The Guardian, Russian officials are now actively investigating the claims of a purge, after several denials from the Chechen government that the crackdown is taking place. In April, Kadyrov denied the reports, claiming that there were "no gay men in Chechnya."
Meanwhile, the Russian LGBT Network has been advocating for an end to the camps, and earlier this month helped to evacuate 40 men from Chechnya. According to a report from BuzzFeed, at least nine men who escaped detainment have managed to obtain visas and find new homes, though the situation remains dire for those who are still in the country.
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