Russian authorities should investigate allegations of a new wave of anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persecution in Chechnya and take steps to protect rights defenders and journalists who expose abuses there, Human Rights Watch said today.
On January 14, 2019, a leading activist with the Russian LGBT Network, Igor Kochetkov, stated that the Network had received credible reports about a new wave of LGBT round-ups by authorities in Chechnya. On January 29, he filed a complaint with Russia’s chief investigative agency. On the day the complaint was filed, a YouTube video with explicit threats against Kochetkov began circulating on social media. On January 30, he filed a complaint about the threats, but there has been no action by the authorities either about the persecution in Chechnya or about the threats to Kochetkov.
“The threats against Igor Kochetkov are very serious and deserve a prompt reaction by the Russian authorities,” said Graeme Reid, LGBT rights program director at Human Rights Watch. “Given the danger LGBT people have been facing in Chechnya, the Interior’s Ministry’s lack of response is dangerous and unacceptable.”
The allegations of a new round of homophobic persecution and the threats against Kochetkov come after Chechen authorities had carried out a vicious large-scale anti-gay purge in spring 2017, during which local police rounded up and tortured around 100 men they suspected of being gay.
The Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, the European External Action Service, and the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum, among others, also have called for investigative authorities in Russia to ensure Kochetkov’s safety.
Kochetkov’s January 29 complaint alleged new unofficial detentions and torture of dozens of people in Chechnya because of their presumed sexual orientation. The complaint specified that at least 14 people were held unlawfully and tortured by police in Grozny, Chechnya’s capital. He provided the name of a presumably gay man allegedly killed by the police in January.
On the YouTube video that circulated in response, Ali Baskhanov, a leader of a pro-government group in Chechnya, calls Kochetkov a “son of the devil” and a “beast,” tells him to stay away from Chechnya, and warns him that Chechnya could become his “final stop.” YouTube removed the video in response to protests.
Kochetkov told Human Rights Watch that he sent his online complaint about the threats against him to the Investigative Department of Russia’s Interior Ministry. A week later, a department official called him to confirm his place of residence and “the place where the alleged violation occurred.” “I told him I live in St. Petersburg and the video is on the internet, though that should be obvious from the complaint,” Kochetkov said. “And that was the end of the conversation.” He said that his initial allegations of a new wave of persecution of LGBT people in Chechnya has remained unanswered and that he and his colleagues were planning to sue the agency “for failure to react to a communication about a crime being perpetrated.”
Chechen authorities have denied reports of a new wave of persecution. Speaking to Interfax on January 14, Alvi Karimov, a spokesman for Ramzan Kadyrov, the governor of Chechnya, said of these reports: "This is an absolute lie, there is not a single grain of truth and it is completely baseless. There were no detentions on grounds of sexual orientation in the indicated periods in the Chechen Republic.”
Despite a staggering international outcry and repeated promises by Russian authorities to investigate the crackdown on LGBT people in Chechnya in 2017, Chechen authorities have enjoyed absolute impunity for the purge. No criminal case has been opened into a complaint by a survivor of the purge and the Russian authorities did not provide him the state protection he repeatedly requested. To the contrary, in May 2018, Russia’s justice minister, Aleksander Konovalov told the UN Human Rights Council, “The investigations that we carried out ... did not confirm evidence of rights’ violations, nor were we even able to find representatives of the LGBT community in Chechnya.”
In November 2018, 16 participating states of the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE) invoked the organization’s “Moscow Mechanism,” and appointed a rapporteur to look into allegations of abuses in Chechnya, including the anti-gay purge. In his report presented to the OSCE Permanent Council in December, the rapporteur concluded that Chechen authorities persecute LGBT people, attack human rights defenders, and carry out torture and other blatant abuses, while the Russian government “appears to support the perpetrators rather than the victims” in Chechnya.
Russia’s international partners should call on Russian authorities to take urgent action in response to Kochetkov’s complaints. Russia should effectively investigate the allegations of new abuses against LGBT people by Chechen authorities, deliver accountability for the 2017 anti-gay purge, and ensure the safety of Kochetkov, his colleagues at Russian LGBT Network, and other human rights defenders and journalists who work at great personal risk to stop abuses in Chechnya.
“Against the backdrop of this stark impunity for the horrific anti-gay purge of 2017, reports of a new wave of persecution of LGBT people in Chechnya are extremely disturbing, especially in the wake of the damning OSCE report, but not surprising at all,” Reid said.