Why you should care and how you can help
by Michael Sheridan
It is difficult to even write about this topic, yet it is important that we get the word out to more and more people about what’s happening the semi-autonomous region of Chechnya in Russia.
To provide some context into this tense situation, Chechnya has been trying to get its independence from Russia for decades and has fought multiple wars to try and achieve this goal. Separatists have unleashed various terror attacks against Russia, including once taking 1,100 people hostages, including 777 children, after seizing a school, resulting in the death of 385 people.
Continuing this tradition of being just terrible people, the Chechens have decided on a new target: Chechen gay men. Through the use of technology, and raiding underground gay social clubs and networks, Chechen gangs have been rounding up the region’s gay men and imprisoning them in what are being described as modern day concentration camps.
Chechen gay men have never had an easy go of it within Chechnya and its surrounding areas, which are predominately Muslim. Homosexuality is considered extremely taboo. Ekaterina L. Sokiryanskaya, Russia project director for the International Crisis Group who is an authority on Chechnya, said “the society is highly homophobic. Homosexuality is condemned. It is believed Islam considers it a great sin.”
These men first are stripped of all their belongings, but their phones are kept on and charging, just in case a gay lover of friend tries to contact them so the gangs will have a new target to round up. After being thrown in essentially a cell, prisoners are subsequently beaten, abused, electrocuted, humiliated, and forced to participate and quasi-sexual acts meant to demoralize these men even more.
Survivors describe abysmal living conditions, with inadequate food and water, and only being allowed to use bathroom facilities three times a day. Prisoners are forced to pay huge ransoms for their freedom, which many of these men cannot afford. Even those that do pay, many are often just recaptured a short time later and forced to pay for their freedom over and over again.
For those who cannot afford the ransom, they are held indefinitely in their cells and face near continuous torment and abuse. One survivor described a fellow prisoner that was beaten so badly that he was reduced to a “bag of bones.” At least three gay men have died in these camps, although the death toll is likely higher and will continue to rise.
What is perhaps the most tragic part of these prisons, is that even when prisoners are lucky enough to be released back into the public, they have been outed. Most people in this hardline Islamic state are likely to refuse to house or take care of their relatives, leaving many gay men with no resources and no one to turn to. There has been at least one case of a man who died after being released, as his family refused to take him in.
Chechnya denies the existence of the camps, just as it denies the existence of gay people at all in the state. They claim that if a gay person were to be found, he would merely be exiled. Russia also denies the existence of any camps. Independent Russian LGBT groups have denounced the camps and are calling on Putin to deal with this ever growing situation.
In a surprisingly strong message, the US ambassador to the UN, Nicki Haley, released a statement calling for an international investigation into the human rights violation taking place in Chechnya.
Yet so far, there has been very little action taken to help the gay men of Chechnya. It is understandably difficult, as Chechnya is not easily accessible for foreigners let alone foreign aid groups. The Kremlin’s denial of the atrocities also complicates matters, as the Russian state won’t let outside groups investigate or help the matter, as they claim that no such atrocities are occurring.
Inside Russia, LGBT groups are trying to do their best to evacuate gay men from the region and find them resources and places to stay outside of the Chechnya (although to be honest, the rest of Russia is still a pretty shitty place to be gay). The only actions I have found in my research about how we in America can help these men is to sign petitions calling on Trump, Putin, the UN, or other groups to take firmer action to help the situation. Amnesty International is probably the biggest charitable organization that is trying to provide help to the situation, although as of writing this article, they have no clear plan on how to help these gay men. Yet, if you were looking to make a financial contribution to help the fight, I would say Amnesty International is the safest place to do that.
I can only hope that the more news spreads of this abominable human rights tragedy that actions will be made to help the gay men in this region.