There’s more to what’s happening in the Russian republic of Chechnya than Putin’s war on “gay propaganda.”
On April 1, the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported that more than 100 gay men had been abducted by authorities in the Russian republic of Chechnya, and at least three had been killed.
Jose Luis Gonzalez / Reuters
One victim interviewed by Human Rights Watch said authorities treated him and others held in an unofficial detention facility “like animals.”
“Beatings, electric shocks I could deal with… I was strong. But the humiliation was unbearable,” he said. “The [police] spit in our faces, they called us disgusting, offensive names, they forced us into humiliating poses… When they finally released me, I was close to hanging myself. I cannot live with this, I just can’t.”
According to a report by The Guardian, as many as several hundred men may have been abducted.
How did we get here? Let’s start with Chechnya: a Muslim-majority republic in southern Russia, where Russian troops fought two bloody wars against separatists in the 1990s and 2000s.
The rebels wanted the area to become an independent country. The two wars killed tens of thousands of people and didn't result in full independence. Today Chechnya is part of Russia, but has autonomy to run its own affairs. Its approximately 1.4 million people are Russian citizens, though few are ethnic Russians.
Wikimedia Commons / Via en.wikipedia.org
Who runs Chechnya? Ramzan Kadyrov, a Kremlin loyalist and prolific Instagrammer accused of numerous atrocities and human rights abuses. He came to power in 2007.
Essentially, Russian President Vladimir Putin has made a deal with Kadyrov: Keep separatists at bay and Moscow will let you do what you like.
This means that even before these roundups of gay men, the authorities in Chechnya operated with impunity, conducting “extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, torture, and cruel and degrading treatment” for two decades, according to Human Rights Watch’s Tanya Lokshina.
“Local authorities are viciously and comprehensively cracking down on critics and anyone whose total loyalty to Kadyrov they deem questionable,” Lokshina said in a statement in January.
Maxim Shemetov / Reuters