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HRW: Chechen Authorities Conducted New Campaign Against Gays In Early 2019

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov

Human Rights Watch said authorities in the Russian region of Chechnya renewed a campaign of intimidation and torture against gays and bisexual men earlier this year, with several men telling the group they had been kicked, beaten, electrocuted, and even raped with foreign objects.

The report by the U.S.-based organization released on May 8 corroborates many earlier reports from Russian activists, who said a new "gay purge" in the North Caucasus region began in late 2018 and continued into early 2019.

It followed a similar crackdown in Chechnya in early 2017 that elicited wide outrage within Russia and other countries.

The Human Rights Watch report was in line with a similar report released in April by Amnesty International, which said that Russian authorities have failed to provide justice for the victims and have shown themselves “complicit in heinous crimes.”

Russia has faced international pressure over the treatment of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community in Chechnya, which Kremlin-backed regional strongman Ramzan Kadyrov has ruled with an iron hand for more than a decade.

Human Rights Watch said it interviewed four men who were detained from three to 20 days in late 2018 and early 2019 at a compound belonging to the Internal Affairs Department for the Chechen capital, Grozny.

“Police officials there kicked them with booted feet, beat them sticks and polypropylene pipes, and tortured three of the four with electric shocks. One was raped with a stick,” the group said.

The men told the rights watchdog they were tortured by police in an effort to force them to identify other gay men in their social circles. In some cases, they were shown photos of men suspected to be gay or bisexual.

“One man said the police handed him over to his family, exposing his sexual orientation and indirectly encouraging his family members to kill him,” the report said.

Some of those interviewed said police demanded large sums of money for the men’s release, it added.

Human Rights Watch said it did not find indications that top Chechen authorities had sanctioned the second wave of detentions, as they had with the anti-gay purge of spring 2017.

Reports that gay men were being targeted by Chechen authorities first emerged in early 2017 when the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta described what it called a campaign of abuses, including abduction, torture, and murder.

Human Rights Watch later confirmed the roundup, calling it "an apparent effort to purge them from Chechen society."

In January 2019, activists began reporting a new campaign targeting gay men. Igor Kochetkov, who heads the Russian LGBT Network, said around 40 people had been detained, and two people killed.

Тhere was no immediate reaction to the HRW report. However, a spokesman for Kadyrov earlier denied Kochetkov's assertion of a new crackdown.

“This is an absolute lie, in which there is neither a grain of truth. There were no detentions on grounds of sexual orientation in the indicated periods in the Chechen Republic," Alvi Karimov was quoted by Interfax as saying in March.

Kadyrov has repeatedly denied any accusations of a purge of gay men. He's also denied that there were any gay men whatsoever living in Chechnya.

In December 2017, the U.S. Treasury Department hit Kadyrov with financial sanctions under the Magnitsky Act human rights law, accusing him of torture and "extrajudicial killings."

Another Chechen security official was sanctioned for involvement in the “anti-gay purge” that targeted gay and bisexual men in the Russian region, the Treasury Department said.

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