Chechen Authorities Abduct 100 Gay Men in Surprise Round-Up

Rachael Borelli, Opinion Co-Editor

Talk of concentration camps and genocide are usually coupled with World War II: events that should have no place in the twenty-first century. However, in Chechnya, the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported that 100 men suspected of being gay were rounded up by Chechen authorities “in connection with their nontraditional sexual orientation, or suspicion of such.” At least three men have been killed.

“I think it’s really sick for innocent people to be put through such hardships just because of their sexuality or how they identify,” senior Skylar Helmstetter said. “It says a lot about our world right now and how far away we are from equality.”

Victims have been held in informal detention centers, tortured, and beaten in order to get them to reveal other contacts that might also be gay. Sometimes the men are returned to their families after a couple of weeks or days. Authorities humiliate their victims by outing them to their families, and they encourage the family to take whatever action they think is needed to deal with the victim.

“It’s completely wrong,” junior Alexandra Jameson said. “It’s inhumane to put people in these environments for who they love, no matter what you believe in.”

Rachel Denber, a Human Rights Watch deputy director of the Europe and Central Asia division, explained that ultra-conservative Chechen authorities are saying this to provide the rationale for honor killing, implying that the victim is “staining” their family’s honor by being gay.

The spokesman for the Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, Alvi Karimov, claimed the story is false because “you can’t arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic,” and, “if such people existed in Chechnya, law enforcement would not have to worry about them, as their own relatives would have sent them to where they could never return.”

The round-up started around the last week of March and the beginning of April, and it was most likely  triggered by GayRussia’s attempt to organize an LGBTQ pride march in Chechnya. Unfortunately, these round-ups aren’t new to conservative Muslim Chechnya. While the recent waves of round-ups represent a spike in activity, similar round-ups have been going on for years.

Filing a complaint and having the guilty party brought to court, as a spokesperson for Putin has advised, would realistically be a dangerous move in Chechnya. Such actions would leave one extremely vulnerable to retaliation by local authorities.

“I believe we should step into the situation somehow. It’s terrible that people are being tortured and killed, and we are still in talks with Putin about multiple subjects, but not [about] the problem in Chechnya,” Helmstetter said. “Our President should at least bring it up in a statement, but he probably will not.”

To take action against the Chechnya concentration camps, follow Elton John’s lead by speaking out against the issue and advising people to sign a petition by Amnesty International to stop the killing and abduction of gay and bisexual men in Chechnya. Stay informed about the issue, and share information. OutRight Action International has suggested that people tag Chechnya’s president on Instagram, @kadyrov_95, on pictures of the concentration camps expressing their disapproval and outrage. On social media, people are using #Chechnya and #CloseTheCamps to discuss and spread the word about this topic. Donating money to organizations that can help the community directly, like the Russian LGBT Network, is also another way to help, or contacting your state representative via telephone, email, or post and urging them to speak out about this issue.