‘Novaya Gazeta’, Russian leading independent newspaper was the first one to broke the story about ongoing detentions, tortures and killings of LGBT people in Chechnya. According to Novaya's investigation, possibly hundreds of men have been detained in the recent wave of state violence in this Russian region, with at least three confirmed deaths. The newspaper’s sources warn that there could be even more victims. ‘Novaya Gazeta’ journalist, Irina Gordienko, explained the details behind her groundbreaking story to ‘Hromadske’.
Irina, you have already published a lot of material on the persecution of gay people in Chechnya in ‘Novaya Gazeta’. How did you collect this information, how difficult was it to get hold of?
The information was really complicated to get hold of because someone’s life could depend on a throw-away statement, without any exaggeration. We began to receive information about the clandestine purge of gay people. People were taken from work, from their homes, and brought to various secret prisons. Many of them were brought in simply on suspicion. It began on the 20th February, but we didn’t have enough information at first. We can talk about this in two waves. The first wave began at the start of 20th February, and then the second wave began after the application for a gay pride event was submitted. This is absolutely impossible to do in the North Caucasus, but for some reason gay activists, who have never even been there, acted very stupidly, understanding that it might not have been allowed.
After that, a wild discussion broke out in all the Caucasian republics, with statements like, ‘we don’t have any gay people here’, and ‘who’s going to allow this?’– even though the local gay community had nothing to do with the application for the gay pride event.
How do you know about these secret prisons? What do you know about the location of some of them? How did you come by this information and what can you do with [this information] now?
Firstly, our newspaper has been working in Chechnya for 25 years and we have our sources, it wouldn’t be right 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.
You said that there were two waves of persecution of the LGBT community. Why did happen on 20th February? What was the reason?
The Caucasian region is very traditional and patriarchal society, and the topic of gay people, to put it mildly, is not popular there. It's human nature, you can't change your sexual identity, and of course, there have always been such people there, but they have always lived a very closed life, and in most cases, even relatives are not aware of this particular aspect of these people. As we wrote in our last publication, when we described the evidence from one person, at the lowest level, the police officers know a few of these people, because as a rule, all information comes from phones. Usually, they catch someone, supposedly for drugs, and search his phone’s database, where there are his correspondences, photos. On the 20th February, they caught one person and searched his phone.
Chechen authorities are denying everything. Do you think is it possible to make change things there?
I can’t predict the future, but we really want to hope that it can. It is necessary to make a point to the international community, so that people who are suffering there, who want to escape or leave, will receive the maximum assistance. Right now, this is paramount.