Instead of assisting the victims, officials and clerics are threatening the Russian newspaper that first exposed the campaign of abuse against gay men in Chechnya.
On April 1, 2017, Novaya Gazeta published an article documenting that Chechen police have been rounding up men believed to be gay and holding them in secret detention facilities, where they submit the men to humiliation and torture.
During the following week, the newspaper published another in-depth article on the same topic, including accounts from several victims.
Novaya Gazeta found that police hold the men for periods ranging from one day to several weeks, and in many cases “outed” them to their families and encouraged their relatives to restore family honour through honour killings. At least three men have died as a result of the purge.
In an April 15 letter to Novaya Gazeta’s editor, Chechnya’s press and information minister, Jambulat Umarov, demanded that the newspaper “apologise to the Chechen people” for suggesting that gay men exist among Chechens, calling it a “filthy provocation.”
Umarov also demanded that Novaya Gazeta reveal its sources, and warned that if the newspaper did not stop publishing “hysteria” about “non-existent threats,” then people who are “more annoyed by your newspaper than we are” would take care of them.
It was the second time in two weeks that Chechen officials and clerics had threatened Novaya Gazeta. On April 3, Chechen television broadcast a gathering of Chechnya’s religious leaders and public figures, together with what it said was 15,000 people in Grozny, the Chechen capital, to protest the article.
In a speech to the crowd, an adviser to Ramzan Kadyrov, the strongman leader of Chechnya, accused the newspaper of defamation and called its journalists “enemies of our faith and of our motherland.” The crowd adopted a resolution that threatened retribution against the journalists “wherever they are and without any statute of limitations.”
“The threats to Novaya Gazeta for exposing the appalling events in Chechnya are extremely serious,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The history of threats and violence against the paper’s journalists who work on Chechnya make this situation especially alarming.”
Cechnya is semi-autonomous republic that is headed by Kadyrov, who is a key ally of President Vladimir Putin and who has been accused of numerous human rights violations.
Despite calls for Russia to take urgent action in the crisis, it appears it too has embarked on a strategy of denial. President Putin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, told journalists on Friday: “We do not have any reliable information about any problems in this area.”
Amnesty International has set up a petition calling for a halt to the homophobic campaign, for perpetrators to be punished and for the safety of the survivors. Sign it here.