Reports have come to light this week regarding the kidnapping, tortures and killings of LGBT people in Russia’s Chechnya. Russian leading independent newspaper "Novaya Gazeta" exposed secret prisons in Russia's Chechnya, where dozens of men who were suspected as gay people were illegally detained, tortured and executed.
Hromadske has been following these developments, and spoke to Irina Gordienko, a journalist from 'Novaya Gazeta", Igor Kochetkov and Svetlana Zakharova from the Russian LGBT Network who clarified some of details surrounding the mass campaign against LGBT people, including what the Russian LGBT Network is doing to help those affected, and what the Russian government should be doing to end the persecution.
Irina Gordienko, a journalist from 'Novaya Gazeta"
How do you know about the secret prisons, as I understand, what do you know about the location of some of these prisons? How did you get this information and what can you with it now?
Firstly, our newspaper has been working in Chechnya for 25 years and we have our sources, it would be unacceptable for us to identify these sources, but we trust them. It is risky for them to feed us this information. Different people have come to us. Some of them were released from prison and are already safely with their families in Europe, and they tell us things from there. They also take the risk to put a stop to what is going on or to make it known, but they want to do this so it is made public.
Ihor Kochetkov, Russian LGBT Network
"I’d like to remind you that Chechnya is not legally a sovereign state, and the responsibility for what is going on right now lies with the government of the Russian Federation. The government of the Russian Federation should investigate this. If they don’t, it means that this will get referred to other organisations. I emphasize the fact that this is about crimes against humanity, about crimes which should be investigated by the International Criminal Court. If the Russian government both persist denying what is going on, and continue to show an unwillingness to investigate this crime properly, then it needs to be investigated in The Hague," said Ihor Kochetkov speaking to Hromadske.
Svetlana Zakharova, Russian LGBT Network
General public back in Europe or in the United States, even people from LGBT organisations are still confused as to whether or not those facts about the detentions and killings have been confirmed. What do we know specifically? What can we confirm about this disturbing development in Chechnya?
We can confirm for sure that the kidnappings, killings and tortures are happening in Chechnya, and the people who have survived such things, or those whose friends are missing or who have survived, they are already contacting us asking for help, and there are really horrible stories about what is going on.
"They regularly brought me in, beat me, tried to shock me, mock me and humiliate me. They wanted me to give up the names of other gay people. After the beatings I would stay with friends for a day or two, wait for the bruises to fade a bit, only then would I go home. I’d tell my family that I’d gotten into a fight. It went on like that for two years. - A witness, "Novaya Gazeta"
Your organisation is now calling for the complete evacuation of gay people from Chechnya. Do you think that this is a feasible, or even possible initiative, considering the situation on the ground and the fact that it is even hard to clarify whether or not there are openly gay people who would agree to be evacuated?
It’s not the only thing we should do, but it is the only thing we can do, because for LGBT people, for gay men, it is very dangerous to stay in Chechnya, and we are already doing that. We have already evacuated some people, so it is feasible. We absolutely understand that it is difficult and our channels of communication are probably not as safe as we want it to be, and people don’t really trust us, but we do all that is possible. Those people that have managed to escape Chechnya by themselves, for example, they have also been contacting us and they are asking us to swear that we are not going to harm them. They want to tell their stories.
"They put us in two rows facing each other, a few dozen people. They handed out these sticks that looked like bats. Everyone had to walk through this formation. Three or four sticks were hard to bear, it really hurt, and after twenty, you can’t bear it at all. I did not know how to deal with the pain, and I always thought that I had a fairly high pain threshold. To try and combat the pain from the torture, I gnawed at my hands until they bled. - A witness, "Novaya Gazeta"
Can you give us a clearer perspective on whether or not these killings in Chechnya have been happening for a while? Because we know that Chechnya is a repressive region - we’ve had a lot of reports about human rights violations there. Is the killing and torture of gay Chechens, in particular, a recent event?
Chechnya has always been a specific region and LGBT people have always been persecuted there, but I believe that this is the first time that there has been a mass campaign. I don’t know why it’s happening, we don’t know why, but we believe that the main question is not why this is happening now, but why doesn’t the government react at all? And why the Investigative Committee, and all the other authorities, don’t do what they’re supposed to do.
"The beatings begin as soon as you’re brought in. The electric shocks, being beaten with plastic pipes. They only ever hit us below the waist- on our legs, hips, bum, waist. They said that we were, “dogs, which have no right to life”. They forced the other prisoners to mock us. - A witness, "Novaya Gazeta"
Once again, what is realistic when it comes to the response of the international community in your opinion? Because obviously, at the moment, it is not possible to intervene directly and help those people in Chechnya. What do you expect could be done realistically by the international community at this point?
We believe that it is quite realistic to protest against those events, and to spread information about those events, to ask the governments and diplomatic missions to press the Russian government and get them to do what they are supposed to do. Chechnya is a very specific and closed region, but it is still part of Russian and some point, Russian citizens are being killed, beaten and tortured to death and there has been absolutely no reaction, it is just unbelievable. We think that international pressure can really make the Russian authorities investigate this information, and stop the killings.
Watch the full Sunday Show 09/04/2017 here.