May 22, 2017 at 2:45 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Chad Griffin urges U.S. to grant visas to gay Chechen men

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin speaks at a protest against the arrest of gay men in Chechnya earlier this month in D.C. He has urged the U.S. to grant visas to those who are fleeing anti-gay persecution in the semi-autonomous Russian republic. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin on Monday described reports that the U.S. has discouraged Russian LGBT rights advocates from helping men who have fled anti-gay persecution in Chechnya apply for visas as “greatly disturbing.”

Griffin in a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wrote that while he understands “it is indeed difficult for them to obtain U.S. visas, it is imperative that the U.S. immediately take every possible step to help the victims find their way safely — and to clearly communicate that the U.S. is pursuing every option, so that the victims do not lose hope.”

“No door should be shut prematurely,” wrote Griffin. “Whether that be through ‘humanitarian parole’ or 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 such grave threats to their fundamental human rights.”

“The people fleeing Chechnya are being persecuted because of who they are and who they love, and it is our responsibility to step up and protect them from despotic leaders who seek to harm them,” he added.

Novaya Gazeta, an independent Russian newspaper, last month reported authorities in Chechnya, which is a semi-autonomous Russian republic in the North Caucuses, have arrested more than 100 gay men since February.

Novaya Gazeta has said at least three of the men died after their arrest, while others have been beaten and tortured. Reports also indicate Chechen authorities have sent them to secret prisons that have been described as “concentration camps.”

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, who is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the Kremlin have sought to downplay or even dismiss the reports that gay men have been arrested. Novaya Gazeta on Monday reported the Russian government has launched an investigation into the allegations.

BuzzFeed last week reported the U.S. has denied visas to Chechen men who are fleeing persecution because of their sexual orientation.

A spokesperson for the Russian LGBT Network, which is providing assistance to those who have left the semi-autonomous Russian republic, later told BuzzFeed the U.S. has not formally denied any visa applications. The spokesperson nevertheless said an official at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow told the Russian LGBT Network there “was no political will” to issue visas to the Chechen men.

BuzzFeed reported only two of the Chechens who have fled anti-gay persecution have received visas that allowed them to legally travel to other countries.

The Russian LGBT Network has said dozens of men who have fled Chechnya remain in hiding inside Russia. Griffin in his letter to Tillerson points out that Chechen women have begun “to come forward with reports of their own mistreatment due to suspicions that they are lesbians, or know of gay men.”

“There is simply no safe place in Russia for them,” wrote Griffin. “Even Europe can be dangerous since Chechen communities there have strong networks, capable of tracking them down and bringing them back to Chechnya.”

Griffin: Tillerson, Trump silence on Chechnya ‘deeply disappointing’

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), former Vice President Joe Biden and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are among those who have publicly condemned the arrests in Chechnya.

The State Department last month urged the Russian government to investigate them. President Trump and Tillerson have not publicly commented on the arrests or the secret prisons in which the gay men have reportedly been held.

Griffin in a letter he sent to Tillerson on April 4 urged him and the Trump administration to stress to their Russian counterparts “that such lawless detentions, arrests, torture and murders are unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”

Griffin in his second letter to Tillerson acknowledged Haley’s statement on the Chechen men’s arrests. Griffin stressed it is “deeply disappointing and troubling that there has not yet been a statement from you (Tillerson) or from the White House.”

“The U.S. must not step back from its traditional role as a human rights leader and as a spokesman for the world’s most vulnerable,” wrote Griffin. “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 must serve as a beacon of hope, and not only serve a set of narrowly-defined interests.”

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

© Copyright Brown, Naff, Pitts Omnimedia, Inc. 2020. All rights reserved.