Earlier this month, worrying reports from Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta claimed that hordes of gay men in the Chechen Republic had been “sent to prison camps” in an attempt to “cure” them of their homosexuality.
According to Novaya Gazeta, gay men have been “illegally detained, beaten, tortured, electrocuted and forced to sit on bottles”, in what they describe as “secret prisons”. More than 100 gay men in the Chechen Republic have been rounded up, with at least three people allegedly murdered.
The horrifying news comes in the same week as a gay couple in Holland were brutally beaten in an unprovoked attack, leading to Dutch members of parliament holding hands in a show of solidarity with the LGBT community.
Russia has a long history of homophobic intolerance and abuse. You may remember President Putin warning gay athletes not to spread homosexual “propaganda” while visiting in Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics. But these latest reports are particularly barbaric.
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov denied reports of these camps on the grounds that there are no homosexuals in the region. “You cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic,” spokesman Alvi Karimov told Interfax.
“If these people existed in Chechnya, law enforcement would not have to worry about them since their own relatives would have sent them to where they could never return.”
This worrying belief is prevalent throughout Russia, but particularly in Chechnya. An Amnesty International Russia spokesperson told Snopes that “Honor killings” – where family members murder men perceived to be tarnishing their family’s reputation by being gay – often go unpunished.
Sveltana Zakharova, from the Russian LGBT network, spoke to the MailOnline about the camps in Chechnya. “Gay people have been detained and rounded up and we are working to evacuate people from the camps, and some people have now left the region.”
“Those who have escaped said that they are detained in the same room and people are kept altogether, around 30 or 40. They are tortured with electric currents and heavily beaten, sometimes to death.”
Several reports today have suggested these secret prisons are in fact “concentration camps”, comparing them to Nazi camps during World War II. While it’s possible this could be an apt comparison, we currently only have testimony from the aforementioned Russian LGBT network.
Alexander Artemyev, an Amnesty International spokesperson, said: “We should always be careful about the language of ‘ gay concentration camps'”. He went on to note that the among those allegedly detained are “Islamic State sympathisers” and “suspected drug users”.
Homophobia is a huge issue across Russia, even in international cities such as Moscow. Two Russian YouTubers decided to put this to the test by holding hands and walking through central Moscow, you can see the results below.
Attitudes like this have forced gay men across Russia to delete their social media profiles after it was reported that authorities and homophobic groups were luring gay men into dates and then detaining them.
One user of Vkontakte, a Russian social networking site, posted that a 16-year old boy had been detained at the camps in Chechnya and returned days later, “all beaten, just a sack with bones.”
Campaigners are planning a march on the Russian Embassy in London this afternoon (5:30 pm on Wednesday 12th April) in protest at the country’s horrendous treatment of gay people. The event description reads:
London fails if it does not challenge this inhumanity. We MUST stand up to this.
Bring banners, flags and most importantly bring yourselves to challenge this oppression and show solidarity with LGBT people in Russia. It will be a PEACEFUL and LEGAL protest. The Metropolitan Police have been informed.
Protests of this type are essential for keeping the conversation going, and eventually achieving change. If you’re in London then please show your support. If not then perhaps take a leaf out of the Dutch government’s book, and show homophobia the two-fingers with a simple act of solidarity.