April 18, 2017 at 8:00 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
International outrage over gay Chechnya arrests mounts

Chechnya, gay news, Washington Blade

The city of Grozny in the Russian republic of Chechnya. Authorities have sent gay men in the semi-autonomous Russian republic to secret prisons that have been described as “concentration camps.”
(Photo by Alexxx1979; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

International outrage over the arrest of more than 100 gay men in Chechnya continues to mount.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland on Saturday in a statement described the “recent and ongoing reports of the persecution of gay and bisexual men” in the semi-autonomous Russian republic that is predominantly Muslim as “reprehensible.” She also called upon the Russian authorities to “thoroughly investigate these reports and to immediately ensure the safety of all persons in Chechnya who may be at risk due to their sexual orientation.”

“We deplore acts of violence and discrimination, in all regions of the world, committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Freeland.

Novaya Gazeta, an independent Russian newspaper, has reported Chechen authorities have arrested more than 100 gay men since the end of February. Many of these men have reportedly been beaten and tortured with electric shocks.

Novaya Gazeta has also said at least three of the men who were arrested later died.

The Russian newspaper last week reported Chechen authorities have sent gay men to secret prisons that have been described as “concentration camps.” The Russian LGBT Network, a St. Petersburg-based advocacy group that has launched an emergency campaign with All Out, a global LGBT activist organization, to evacuate gay men from Chechnya, confirmed these reports to the Washington Blade.

“I am disgusted and appalled by reports from both the Russian media and non-governmental organizations that authorities in the Russian republic of Chechnya have rounded up, tortured and even murdered individuals who are believed to be gay,” said former Vice President Joe Biden in a statement he posted to the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement’s Facebook page on Saturday.

The State Department in an April 7 statement said it is “increasingly concerned about the situation” in Chechnya. It also urged the Russian government “to speak out against such practices, take steps to ensure the release of anyone wrongfully detained, conduct an independent and credible investigation into these reports and hold any perpetrators responsible.”

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley on Monday said the U.S. remains “disturbed” by the arrests. British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson and Vitit Muntarbhorn, who is the U.N.’s first LGBT and intersex rights watchdog, are among those who have also condemned the situation.

President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have not publicly commented on the arrests or the secret prisons in which the gay men have been held.

Agence France-Presse reported a spokesperson for Russian President Vladimir Putin, with whom Tillerson met on April 12 in Moscow, told reporters late last week the Kremlin does not “have any reliable information” about the arrests.

The Associated Press on Sunday reported Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov categorized the international outcry over the gay men’s arrests as “attempts” that “are being made to blacken our society, lifestyle, traditions and customs.” Kadyrov’s spokesperson told a Russian government news agency earlier this month it is “impossible to prosecute those who are not in the republic.”

“The existence of concentration camps is a serious breach of all international human rights conventions,” said the Brazilian Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans Association in a statement it released on April 10.

Laura Weinstein, president of Grupo Acción y Apoyo a Personas Trans, a trans advocacy group that is based in the Colombian capital of Bogotá, on April 14 posted to her Twitter account a satellite picture that reportedly shows one of the secret prisons in which gay men are being held.

“In this camp in Chechnya people are being tortured, locked up and exterminated for being gay and trans,” she wrote.

Israeli LGBT rights advocates on April 14 held an “emergency meeting” at the offices of the Aguda, the Israeli National LGBT Task Force, in Tel Aviv to discuss the arrests of the gay Chechen men and ways they can help them. The Brazilian Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans Association and other LGBT advocacy groups have urged the U.N. to launch an investigation into the abuses that are reportedly taking place.

“ILGA-Europe urges international institutions to advocate for the rights of the LGBTI community in the region, and for national governments to assist those fleeing persecution to find safety,” said ILGA-Europe in an April 13 statement.

OutRight Action International on Monday urged British Petroleum, ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell — three oil companies that have made significant investments with state-owned Russian oil and gas companies — to publicly condemn the arrests.

Tillerson was ExxonMobil’s CEO until Trump nominated him to become secretary of state.

“This is one of the worst homophobic campaigns the world has ever seen,” said OutRight Action International Executive Director Jessica Stern. “If Russia will not listen to other governments or even the United Nations, it is time to see if we can get money to talk in a language that they will listen to.”

Death threats force Novaya Gazeta reporter into hiding

Chechen Social Politics Minister Dzhambulat Umarov on Sunday demanded Novaya Gazeta to apologize for the “disgusting nonsense that you spread.” One of the newspaper’s reporters who broke the story has reportedly gone into hiding because of death threats she has received.

Svetlana Zakharova of the Russian LGBT Network told the Blade on Monday she and her colleagues think the growing outcry over the arrests will put further pressure on the Kremlin to intervene.

“We hope that it will make the Russian government stop [the] kidnappings, tortures and killings,” said Zakharova.

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

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