Despite Russian President Vladmir Putin's public statements denying that gay men in the semiauttonomous Russian republic of Chechnya are being persecuted, survivors are speaking out about the horrific treatement they faced in concentration camps, where it is said that at least 100 men have been detained and three men killed.
Human Right First and RUSA LGBT released a video of stories from gay men who survived torture in the camps. The stories are read by gay Russian asylees who live in the United States.
In a written statement, Shawn Gaylord of Human Rights First explained why the group made the video:
“Gay men are being treated like animals. They’re rounded up, they’re detained, they’re tortured, a few have been murdered. All of this has been inflicted upon them by the very people sworn to protect them. The world needs to act. We’re calling on the administration and Congress to speak out against these horrific human rights abuses. The stories coming from those lucky enough to survive and make it out are harrowing. We felt that by sharing them we could put this nightmare in perspective for the many people that have only read about it in a newspaper. We partnered with gay Russian men from the Russian-Speaking American LGBT Association because who better to share these accounts than those who have fled similar persecution. Our hope is that this will drive action, our hope is that it will help achieve justice.”
The New York Times also interviewed several gay men who were arrested and endured beatings and torture in Chechnya.
One man said he experienced beatings over the course of two weeks. He was found out after chatting online with a man online who asked to meet in person. When he arrived at the man's apartment, there was a group of agents who began beating him. He says he was also strapped to a chair and interrogated.
Alvi Karimov, a spokesman for Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, told the Times that the reports could not be true because gay people do not exist in the region.
“In Grozny, have you ever noticed people who, by their appearance or manners, resemble people who are oriented in the wrong way?” said Karimov.
“A policy is developed for a problem,” Karimov told the paper when asked if it was official policy to arrest gay men. “I can officially say there is no policy because there is no problem. If there were a problem, there would be a policy.”
Putin Wednesday called the media reports "libelous."
The Russian LGBT Network is helping gay men escape from Chechnya. Gay men who were rescued by the network said they didn't believe them at first and thought it was another trap. “They say, ‘We didn’t believe you were real,’” said Olga Baranova, director of the Moscow Community Center, a group that is also helping gay men escape the region. “‘We thought this was the last effort to round up whoever was left.’”
The network of organizations is assisting gay men in Chechnya by purchasing airplane tickets and putting them in safe homes, along with getting them medical treatment.
“Gays in Chechnya and the North Caucasus are in lethal danger,” Igor Kochetkov, director of the Russian LGBT Network, told the Times. “People whose partners are detained have every reason to believe they will be arrested. It is very hard not to name the names under torture.”
Watch the video from Human Rights First below.