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Chechnya’s long arm of retaliation against gay men

Moscow police on May 11 seize petitions labeled "Justice for the Chechen 100." (Marta Khromova photo courtesy of AFP and Getty Images via The Guardian)
Moscow police on May 11 seized petitions labeled “Justice for the Chechen 100,” seeking safety for 100 allegedly gay Chechens who were abducted by homophobic Chechen officers.  (Marta Khromova photo courtesy of AFP and Getty Images via The Guardian)

LGBT refugees who were spared Chechnya’s anti-LGBT crackdown have found that they’re not even safe in the West.

Human Rights Watch reports:

Chechnya’s Long Arm of Retaliation Against Gay Men

LGBT Refugees Find that Safety in West is Far from Absolute

By Boris Dittrich

High Assembly at the main mosque in Grozny, Chechnya, called for retribution against journalists who reported on mass arrests of suspected gays in Chechnya. (Photo courtesy of Grozny TV and Novaya Gazeta)
Last spring’s assembly at the main mosque in Grozny, Chechnya, called for retribution against journalists who reported on mass arrests of suspected gays in Chechnya. (Photo courtesy of Grozny TV and Novaya Gazeta)

I recently met two Chechen gay men living as refugees in Western Europe in a bustling café. Both were in their early twenties, both looked around nervously. After we shared some pleasantries, Bula and Zelim cut to the chase.

“We were abducted, tortured in Grozny. The police extorted us for money because we are gay. They threatened to disclose our sexual orientation to our families. We paid them a lot to avoid that,” Bula and Zelim said. They had fled Grozny before this year’s purge against gay men. Bula, handed me his cell phone, showing me a picture of himself with a broken nose and a black eye.  “This happened in Moscow where I was hiding after I fled from Grozny. I was attacked by two Chechens who came to look for me. After that I escaped to Western Europe in 2016.”

Even then, the threats continued.  “A few days ago,” Bula said, “the police came to my parent’s house in Chechnya. They demanded that I come back. If not, they said they would return to take revenge and arrest my father. Arrest means torture or worse.”

I tried to grasp at something positive. “This is really terrible for your mother, but fortunately you are safe here.”

That proved naïve.

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov (Photo courtesy of ABC News)
Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov denied the mass arrests of gay citizens, saying that “such people do not exist.” (Photo courtesy of ABC News)

“We received text messages from people we met only once or twice in Grozny. They say they want to meet with us here in this country or elsewhere in Western Europe. But we suspect they want to trick us and abduct us to Chechnya.” Bula wiped the sweat from his palms with a napkin.

They had fled far from home. But it seemed Chechen authorities knew where to find them.

Bula’s eyes filled with tears. “We violated the honour and reputation of our country by asking for asylum based on our sexual orientation and now they want to punish us. If not the government, then our families are expected to kill us. This happened to some of our friends.”

We were quiet for some time, letting these words sink in. Then Zelim said: “I miss my mother.”

Canada, France, Germany, and the Netherlands all accepted gay refugees from Chechnya after pressure from human rights organizations. It’s a small success, but safety is relative. Although Bula and Zelim have escaped immediate danger, their problems are far from over.

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Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. After his retirement from paid newspaper work in 2011, he launched Erasing 76 Crimes and helped with the Spirit of 76 campaign that assembled a multi-national team of 26 LGBTI rights activists to advocate for change during the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., in July 2012. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, including the Erasing 76 Crimes news site and the African Human Rights Media Network. Contact him via Twitter @76crimes or by email at info@76crimes.com. Mailing address: 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA.

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