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No End to Chechnya’s Violent Anti-Gay Campaign

Kidnapping, Interrogation Exposes Brutal Intent

Campaigners protest for LGBT rights in Chechnya outside the Russian embassy in London, Britain on June 2, 2017. © 2017 Neil Hall/REUTERS

The Russian LGBT Network has reported that in May 2021, Chechen-speaking men abducted Ibragim Selimkhanov in Moscow and forcibly returned him to Chechnya’s capital Grozny, where authorities interrogated him about gay people in the region. This is the latest chapter in Chechnya’s relentless assault on sexual and gender minorities.

In 2017 and 2019, Chechen authorities orchestrated lethal purges of men perceived to be gay or bisexual. The award-winning documentary “Welcome to Chechnya” details the purge and also documents the experience of lesbians, whose horrific ordeals are usually perpetuated by family members.

Government critics and other undesirables in Chechnya risk retaliation from a ruthless security apparatus, with scant avenues for recourse. Authorities control virtually all aspects of social life, including politics, religion, academic discourse, and family matters.

In 2017, as reports of the purge surfaced, gay and bisexual men began escaping Chechnya, knowing the dangers they faced. “Magomed” told Human Rights Watch, “My life is ruined. I cannot go back. And it’s not safe here either. They have long arms and they can find me and the others anywhere in Russia, just give them time.”

The threats haunted people abroad as well. In September 2017, just months after escaping Chechnya and arriving in Canada, a Chechen gay man in Toronto faced threats. Police investigated claims that two Chechen men lured him on a dating app, then proceeded to berate him for his sexual orientation.

In February 2021, police apprehended Salekh Magamadov and Ismail Isaev, who had escaped the region for fear of persecution over positing anti-governmental comments on social media, and forcibly returned them to Grozny, where they remain in detention and are standing trial on bogus charges of aiding an illegal armed group. In March, Chechen authorities detained and threatened family members of the men who demanded access to legal counsel. Multiple United Nations human rights experts and the European Court of Human Rights have demanded the men be granted access to medical care and lawyers. A lawyer finally met with them in earlier this month, and reported prison officials had tortured the pair in detention.

Selimkhanov is more fortunate for now. Authorities released him to live under surveillance with his mother, and later he escaped Chechnya a second time. But as long as Moscow continues to tolerate and deny accountability for the ruthless campaign, he, and many others like him, will not be safe.

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