Over 100 men suspected of being gay have been rounded up and detained by the Chechen authorities, with many tortured and some killed.
Chechnya has an authoritarian and extremely repressive state presiding over a deeply homophobic society, but this development is shocking even in this context. Some of the suspected gay men were killed in violent raids, whilst others have been kept in secret “concentration-camp style” prisons, where many have been subjected to electric shocks and violent abuse, with some beaten to death.
Very few people are openly gay in Chechnya, and much of the torture aims to find the identity of other gay men. The exact figures dead and detained is unknown, as many have gone missing; but by early April the names of three who have been killed in detention have been released, and activists suspect many more have too. Some as young as 16, were rounded up.
Chechnya is a region of Russia with substantial autonomy, with a long history of separatist movements, ethnic violence and conflicts with the Russian government (including under the USSR). LGBTQ+ rights in Russia itself have got worse since the 2013 LGBT “propaganda bans”, which have been used to repress LGBT liberation campaigning. Putin’s response to the situation in Chechnya has been very limited and permissive at best, encouraging “official complaints”.
Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechen President, has severely repressed critics, both activists and journalists. He was appointed by the Kremlin in 2007, and increased his crackdown on dissent in the decade up to elections in 2016. He was closely connected to the assassination and murder of political opponents.
The Chechen regime has a history of torture and human rights abuses. Kadyrov’s spokesperson has denied the execution and detention of gay men, as “such people do not exist” in Chechnya, that if they did they would have been killed by their families.
Honour killings of LGBT people by their families are in fact quite common in Chechnya. This is in fact another danger to LGBT people in Chechnya. The conservatism and homophobia in Chechnyan society is linked both to nationalism and to traditional and political Islam. 95% of the population are practicing Muslims, although their local practices and traditions, Adat, are often seen as more important than religion.
National conflicts have worsened this situation, as separatist groups have often been Islamist, strengthening reactionary ideas. A left response to this horrific homophobia must be secular, internationalist and forceful.