Chechnya is a predominantly Muslim and semi-autonomous Russian republic in the North Caucasus with a population of roughly 1.27 million people. It borders the country of Georgia, the semi-autonomous Russian republics of Dagestan, Ingushetia, North Ossetia-Alania and Stavropol Krai in Russia proper.
Chechnya’s capital and largest city is Grozny.
Chechen separatists declared the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria in 1991 during the collapse of the Soviet Union. The two wars that Russia waged against them in the 1990s and 2000s killed up to 160,000 people and left Grozny in ruins.
Then-Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov was assassinated in 2004. His son, Ramzan Kadyrov, who, like his father, was a leader in the Chechen independence movement who later expressed their support for Russia, became president in 2007.
Chechnya and other semi-autonomous Russian republics and regions have their own legislative bodies and law enforcement officials. Maxim Eristavi, an LGBT and civil rights advocate who works in Eastern Europe, noted to the Washington Blade on Monday during a telephone interview from Prague the Kremlin still controls political and economic affairs and “dissent is not possible.”
“You can’t be politically independent or economically dependent,” he said.
Journalists, human rights activists targeted in Chechnya
Human Rights Watch notes in a 2016 report that Ramzan Kadyrov and his government have frequently targeted opponents, journalists and human rights advocates over the last decade.
The report notes a man died after Chechen authorities “forcibly disappeared and tortured him.” It also indicates police officers beat a man’s mother and his 17-year-old daughter and “threatened them with death” in order to persuade him to retract comments that he made against Ramzan Kadyrov before he won re-election last September with roughly 98 percent of the vote.
Ramzan Kadyrov is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Ramzan Kadyrov’s government in Chechnya generally did not investigate or prosecute abuses, and security forces committed abuses with impunity,” notes the State Department in its 2016 human rights report.
A reporter from Novaya Gazeta, an independent Russian newspaper who broke the story on the gay Chechen men’s arrests, has reportedly gone into hiding because of death threats she has received. Anna Politkovskaya, a Novaya Gazeta reporter who criticized Putin’s policies in Chechnya, was murdered inside her Moscow apartment building in 2006.
“The recent waves of atrocities towards gay people is just part of the larger policy of violence and state violence towards the local population,” Eristavi told the Blade.
Eristavi noted Chechen society is predominantly Muslim and traditionally hostile towards homosexuality. He told the Blade that religion or ethnicity is not behind the recent arrests and torture of gay men, noting authorities in Dagestan and other predominantly Muslim republics in the Caucuses have not done “anything like this.”
“Religion, customs or traditions or culture are often used in repressive societies as window dressing,” said Eristavi. “Obviously the roots are in a policy of impunity of the Kadyrov regime.”
Eristavi told the Blade he feels international pressure “can make a change on the ground” in Chechnya. He added LGBT and intersex advocates around the world could have an even bigger impact if they raise awareness of Chechen refugees who have left their homeland.
“This could bring more light to this problem,” said Eristavi. “This could actually save lives.”