After months of mysterious disappearances, a local newspaper finally broke the news about alleged kidnappings and murders of homosexual men in Chechnya, the predominantly Muslim North Caucus region in Russia, claiming the authorities have rounded up and detained more than 100 gay men “in connection with their nontraditional sexual orientation, or suspicion of such.”
The victims are between the ages 16 to 50 — including at least two well-known Chechen TV reporters, a waiter and several prominent religious leaders. A firsthand account published in the original news story said a 16-year-old went missing for a few days and was later found thrown into a yard beaten up and nothing but a bag of bones.
The Russian news outlet, which confirmed the disappearances from sources in "the Interior Ministry of the Chechen Republic, inside the federal government, the FSB [domestic intelligence] Department for Chechnya, the Chechen prosecutor's office, and finally local LGBT activists,” claimed it knows the identities of three men murdered by the authorities.
Disturbingly, the story claimed there could be many more victims.
“The residents of Chechnya, who were victims of persecution — even if only on suspicion of unconventional sexual orientation — have very little chance of surviving,” read the newspaper. “Relatives will not file complaints with official authorities, and the facts of detention and even the murder of their loved ones will be carefully concealed.”
The troubling crackdown on homosexuality, dubbed as the “preventive mopping up” of undesirable figures, is apparently about persecuting street activists as much as it is about punishing gay men.
Apparently, the arrests and detainments started after a Moscow-based gay rights group launched a campaign to stage gay pride parades and applied for permits in four provincial cities in North Caucasus region. Although the group did not ask for permission to organize an event in Chechnya, the anti-gay sentiment in the republic prompted locals to hold counter-protest demonstrations.
Nikolai Alexeyev, the project's organizer, said he was aware the project could never succeed. The group was reportedly collecting the denied permits with plans to submit them to the European Court of Human Rights as evidence that Russian authorities were repressing LGBT+ rights.
The reports also claimed law enforcement officials have been specifically seeking out closeted gay men by posing as men looking for dates on social networking sites, prompting widespread panic. An increasing number of male social media users are reportedly shutting down their social media accounts, worried for their safety, knowing how the current wave of homophobic sentiment will make it impossible for detained to demand an investigation or even a trial.
Meanwhile, the authorities are obviously denying the accusations. Their defense: The government could not be rounding up and murdering gay people in cold blood because there are no gay men in the region to begin with.
“You cannot detain and persecute people who simply do not exist in the republic,” said a representative Chechnya’s pro-Putin leader Ramzan Kadyrov, according to Radio Free Europe. “If there were such people in Chechnya, the law-enforcement organs wouldn’t need to have anything to do with them because their relatives would send them somewhere from which there is no returning.”
Sadly, the last part of this outrageous statement is actually true.
Since the draconian ritual of honor killings is still widespread in Chechnya, gay men also face danger from their families, many of whom would kill their kin to save their reputation and wash off the “shame” the victim brought onto the family.