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Chechen queer purge ignites again

by Heather Cassell

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and President<br>Donald Trump met for the first time July 7 on the sidelines at the G-20 summit.<br>Photo: AP
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and President
Donald Trump met for the first time July 7 on the sidelines at the G-20 summit.
Photo: AP  

Russia's leading LGBT rights organization has sounded the alarm that individuals suspected of being queer have begun to be rounded up in another wave of detentions and tortures in Chechnya.

The news broke just before last week's G-20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany.

President Donald Trump met with Russian President Vladimir Putin last Friday while both were in Hamburg. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sat in on the meeting.

The Russia LGBT Network's emergency hotline, which was set up following Novaya Gazeta's April article that broke the news of detainment and torture of presumed gay and bisexual men, received around 10 calls since June 24, the end of Ramadan, reported BuzzFeed.

The network has evacuated about 40 gay men from the remote Muslim-majority region, placing them in temporary undisclosed safe houses around Moscow, according to media reports. One man arrived safely in his host country, France, reported the New Yorker.


Chechen LGBT purge

Monday, July 10 marked 100 days since the news first broke about the human rights atrocity and no action being taken by Russian and U.S. leaders, noted All Out, an international LGBT rights organization.

Since Novaya Gazeta's first story, the newspaper has reported an estimated six secret prisons where suspected LGBT individuals and others have been detained and tortured.

It's now believed that 27 people were killed in January, some identified as gay men, according to experts at Russian LGBT Network and Human Rights First, who reviewed the list of names recently published by Gazeta, according to media reports.

New evidence is surfacing that men aren't the only targets of Chechen authorities. While many human rights advocates have stated queer women haven't been targeted, Chad Griffin, president of Human Rights Campaign, wrote in a July 5 letter to Trump, that lesbians and women assumed to know gay men are also being swept up in the crackdown.

HRC published a 43-page report, " They Have Long Arms and They Can Find Me," documenting human rights violations perpetrated by Chechen officials by gay survivors and reporters covering the story.

Lesbian Russian journalist and author Masha Gessen corroborated HRC's findings in her article in the New Yorker when Ali, a gay man using an alias who escaped Chechnya with the help of the Russian LGBT Network, described the chambers in which he was tortured.

Ali told Gessen that he saw both men and women who were screaming as they were being "beaten with fists and batons," in a chamber deep in a basement.

Gessen, who lives in Brooklyn with her family, interviewed several men who were living in the undisclosed safe houses in Moscow waiting to be evacuated.

"My colleagues and I have seen first-hand the pain and suffering of those who have survived the horror of illegal arrests and torture [in Chechnya]," Igor Kochetkov of the Russian LGBT Network said July 6 in a joint news release with All Out.


Russian failure

Kochetkov called out Russia for "failing in its responsibility to allow its own citizens to live in safety" and for failing to "hold anyone to account for the appalling abuses that have already taken place."

In May, following a month of international outcry, Putin reportedly acquiesced to the pressure by agreeing to investigate the situation in Chechnya after Kremlin officials and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov denied the widespread detainments.

However, the organizers of the Russian LGBT Network issued a statement June 26 stating that Russian officials were derailing the investigation.

"There is strong evidence showing that the Russian authorities have no interest in initiating a just and transparent investigation and lead the public (both Russian and international) into an error," wrote the organizations' leaders in the statement citing the promotion of a high-ranking officer and the country's human rights ambassador refusing to visit Chechnya.

In May, Colonel of Justice Igor Sobol, an expert in Chechnya, was assigned to investigate claims of LGBT persecution. He was replaced by Lieutenant-Colonel Vladimir Polivanov, who has no experience in the region. That same month, Russia's human rights ambassador, Tatyana Moskalkova, who was also assigned to investigate, publicly stated that she had no reason to go to Chechnya personally because no LGBT person from Chechnya appealed to her office, according to heads of the Russian LGBT Network.

Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters July 6, "If there is such a question [on gay rights] then there will be an answer," reported Russian news agency Tass.

"We will inform you if this issue is raised," he said.


Trump ignores Chechnya in Putin meeting

Trump reportedly didn't raise the question during his more than two-hour meeting with Putin on the sidelines at the G-20, according to media reports.

Leading up to the summit, 25 U.S.- and United Kingdom-based international LGBT and human rights organizations urged Tillerson and Trump to address the humanitarian crisis in Chechnya during meetings with Putin.

The global LGBT and human rights advocates called out Tillerson and Trump for their sharp turn away from America being a leader in human rights to embracing "a range of dictators."

White House officials admitted that Trump wasn't even "aware" of the persecution of LGBT Chechens, according to a July 7 GLAAD news release.

Prior to G-20, the U.S. State Department only released a statement condemning the detentions. The subject wasn't brought up when Tillerson met face-to-face with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, he told a congressional committee last month, according to media reports.

Other world leaders such as British Prime Minister Theresa May, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, and human rights activists around the globe have condemned the violence against mostly gay men in Chechnya, the coalition of global LGBT and human rights organizations leaders pointed out.

The only U.S. support for persecuted LGBT Chechens has come from U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley. Some members of Congress have also publicly condemned the LGBT persecution in Chechnya.

HRC's Griffin sent his own letter to Trump.

"No door should be shut prematurely. Whether that be through 'humanitarian parole,' through the refugee system, or through other countries that can process them more quickly, the U.S. must show leadership in helping people who face grave threats to their fundamental human rights," he wrote. "The people fleeing Chechnya are being persecuted because of who they are or whom they love, and it is our responsibility to step up and protect them from despotic leaders who seek to harm them."

On a stronger note Griffin added, "The U.S. must not step back from its essential role as a human rights leader and as a champion of the world's most vulnerable. Failure to speak out against these atrocities signals to dictators and human rights violators that the U.S. will turn a blind eye to their crimes. We can, and must, serve as a beacon of hope."


Snapchat-like app helps Russian gay men date without fear

Independent Russian app developers have created a SnapChat-like app, Partner App, in response to traditional online platforms utilized by gay Russians to hook up.

Unlike traditional online platforms, Partner App doesn't use profiles as a point of access to the mobile program. Personal photos are only accessible when both members agree and all chats are deleted in 24 hours, according to user testimonials in a July 6 Partner App news release.

The app uses real-time location-based technology along with behavioral patterns of LGBT communities around the world. The combined power of data and technology seeks out nearby men and makes recommendations to connect like-minded people to meet in public places, such as gyms, restaurants, or parties.

"We are the company with a mission to make LGBT world a better place," the founder of Partner App, who remains anonymous, said in the release. Safety is the app's "number one priority."

The Partner App team is currently working on a new feature that will announce alerts of possible dangers based on users' ratings, which will be available in a future release.

The app is currently available on iTunes.


Chinese man wins gay conversion therapy case

A court in Zhumadian, in China's central Henan province, ruled in favor of a man who was forced by his wife and family into a hospital for gay conversion therapy.

The 38-year old man, only identified by his surname Yu, endured 19 days of being held against his will and subjected to forced injections and medication, reported the Associated Press.

The court awarded him a public apology from the hospital to be published in the media and 5,000 yuan ($735).

In 2014, Xiao Zhen, a pseudonym to protect his safety, secured a meeting with Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization, in China after launching a petition with All Out that called upon the agency to denounce gay "cure" therapy.

That same year, a Beijing court ruled in favor of Chinese gay rights activist Peng Yanhui, 30, against a private clinic where he underwent hypnosis and electric shocks, reported the AP. He was awarded 3,500 yuan ($515) and an apology on the clinic's website.

These are major victories in Communist China where just 21 percent of the country's population approved of homosexuality, according to a Pew Research Center survey in 2013, reported the AP.

Recently, China has restricted internet use, with the government banning and blocking LGBT content online.


Got international LGBT news tips? Contact Heather Cassell at




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