July 12, 2017 at 12:02 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
High-tech industry campaign highlights gay Chechnya crackdown

Elad Mintzer, gay news, Washington Blade

Elad Mintzer of Ze, a group for LGBT people who work in the high-tech industry, is among those who spearheaded Tech4Chechnya, a campaign during WorldPride in Madrid that sought to highlight the ongoing crackdown against gay men in Chechnya. Mintzer spoke with the Washington Blade on June 29, 2017, at Google’s offices in Madrid. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

MADRID — A group of LGBT people who work in the high-tech industry used 2017 WorldPride as an opportunity to try and help the victims of the ongoing crackdown against gay men in Chechnya.

Google on June 29 hosted participants in the Tech4Chechnya campaign at their Madrid offices.

More than 20 people took part in a “hackathon” in which they sought to help develop apps and software that would allow advocates to better communicate with gay men in Chechnya. Tech4Chechnya participants also spoke on Skype with members of the Moscow-based Russian LGBT Network about how they can use technology to provide additional assistance to gay Chechens who have fled their homeland.

Elad Mintzer, the Israel-based managing director of Ze, a group for LGBT people who work in the high-tech industry, told the Washington Blade the advocates with whom he and other Tech4Chechnya campaign participants spoke “need more people that they can trust to help them.”

“It’s hard for them,” he added. “We will try to help them with technology to be more efficient, so [they can] have a more safe way to talk with the refugees.”

Representatives from InterPride, which organizes WorldPride, and others from Google and OutRight Action International are among those who also spoke with Tech4Chechnya participants. A gala the campaign held at a Madrid nightclub on June 30 raised money for English courses for gay Chechens in Russia who want to leave the country.

“Sometimes it’s better for them to not stay in Russia,” Mintzer told the Blade.

Chechnya is ‘a very big problem’

Chechnya is a predominantly Muslim, semi-autonomous Russian republic in the North Caucuses.

Novaya Gazeta, an independent Russian newspaper, in April reported Chechen authorities have arrested more than 100 men because of their sexual orientation — or perceived sexual orientation. Reports indicate several of these men have reportedly died after their arrest, while others have been beaten and tortured and sent to secret prisons.

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, who is a close Putin ally, and the Kremlin have sought to downplay or even dismiss these reports.

The Russian LGBT Network has expressed skepticism over the Kremlin’s claims it has begun to investigate the crackdown. It said on Tuesday that “persecutions of LGBT people (have) started again.”  

“It is a very big problem,” Escandia Camergo, a Tech4Chechnya participant from Mexico City, told the Blade on June 29.

‘We can do something to change the world’

More than a million people lined the streets of Madrid on June 30 for the 2017 WorldPride march and parade.

Several dozen Russian LGBT rights advocates took part in the march from the Atocha train station to Plaza de Colón. Other participants highlighted their opposition to Putin.

Madrid Mayor Manuela Carmena did not specifically mention Chechnya in remarks that she delivered at a WorldPride reception earlier in the week. She did note LGBT and intersex people in many countries around the world continue to face persecution because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Misha Makara, a Tech4Chechnya participant from New York, told the Blade on June 29 the campaign is “a great program that allows us to do more than just party at Pride.”

“We can do something to change the world and hopefully make the world a slightly better place,” he said.

“Being here working with others trying to change the situation is helpful,” added Makara. “But it’s also important to remember that Pride is a demonstration and this is part of that demonstration. So we have to have fun and also have a little bit of work as we do it.”

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Canadian Prime Minister Justin are among those who have condemned the crackdown against gay men in Chechnya. President Trump — who met with Putin on July 7 during the G-20 summit in Germany — and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have yet to publicly comment on it.

“I would like Donald Trump to comment,” Makara told the Blade. “However, judging by his past efforts, I’m not going to be surprised (if he doesn’t.)”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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