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A New Gay Crackdown in Chechnya Has Been Confirmed

CHECHNYA PROTEST

Men detained in recent months describe torture, including electric shock and being raped with a stick, as police demanded they turn over names of gays, according to the Human Rights Watch. 

Human Rights Watch investigators have confirmed a new gay crackdown in Chechnya earlier this year.

A new report includes chilling accounts from subjects of the police action detailing torture and intimidation amid demand they identify other gay men living in the country.

The report runs counter to official denials from the government there, and it adds validity to reports by the Russian LGBT Network early this year.

The new report from HRW details accounts from four men detained between December and February for between three and 20 days at the Grozny Internal Affairs Department. They say police tortured and abused them while in custody, kicking them, beating them with sticks and polypropylene pipes. Electrical shock was used in at least three of the cases.

"They [police] screamed at me. One of them started kicking me, I dropped to the floor, flat on my stomach," said 'Anzor,' a 29-year-old interviewd by HRW. "Then they made me kneel on the floor and put metal clips on my thumbs [the wires were hooked to a device delivering electric shocks], he turned the knob [of the device], first slowly and then faster and faster."

"He stopped when I screamed my heart was about to burst. They took the clips off and my hands were heavy and felt dead," the man continued.

Another man, 25-year-old 'Albert,' said police tortured him while demanding he turn over the names of gay men in the area.

"They insulted me, asked me to 'give up others like you, we know you're gay, tell us. Sooner or later we'll find out, we break everyone,' " he said.

"I fell, they left me there. About an hour later, they brought in a thing, it looked like an old phone. They put me on a chair... and started to turn the knob, and from this your hands clench... I can't describe the pain. This went on for some 15 minutes, with breaks."

One of the men told HRW he'd been raped with a stick while in custody.

The reports all line up with the previous reporting from the Russian LGBT Network. Notably, that organization said the crackdown resulted in at least two deaths.

Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said Chechan officials continue to face no consequences for abuse. She suggested that when a massive "gay purge" in 2017 resulted in outrage but little international consequence, authorities took that as a greenlight to continue persecution.

"There wasn't anything remotely resembling an effective investigation into the anti-gay purge of 2017, when Chechen police rounded up and tortured dozens of men they suspected of being gay," Denber said. "Impunity for the 2017 anti-gay purge has sanctioned a new wave of torture and humiliation in Chechnya."

The men interviewed by HRW say police demanded they identify other gay men living in the region, and seized their cell phones to find more information.

Police in some cases forcibly shaved the beards off the men or had other inmates do so. That's consistent with past reports of police treatment in Chechnya of gay men.

Two of the men were detained in a large group with 40 others rounded up as part of the crackdown. That's a number consistent with the past reports from the Russian LGBT Network.

Another man told HRW he was separately detained with eight to 10 men in a smaller lock-up, and the fourth interview subject was kept alone.

That suggests the crackdown was more expansive and over a longer period of time than originally reported, though HRW notes it cannot confirm the scope of the new efforts conclusively, nor could they conclusively say if the government sanctioned the actions.

Chechan authorities have consistently denied any crackdown has taken place.

Alvi Karimov, spokesman for Chechan President Ramzan Kadyrov, told Russian media outlet Interfax News any stories were fabrications.

"This is an absolute lie, in which there is neither a grain of truth, nor a single percent of reality," he said after initial reports. "There were no detentions on grounds of sexual orientation in the indicated periods in the Chechen Republic."

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