Up to several hundred gay men are feared to have been rounded up and some killed in ultra-conservative Russian republic
Thursday 13 April
At least once a day, Adam’s captors attached metal clamps to his fingers and toes. One of the men then cranked a handle on a machine to which the clamps were linked with wires, and sent powerful electric shocks through his body. If he managed not to scream, others would join in, beating him with wooden sticks or metal rods.
As they tortured him, the men shouted verbal abuse at him for being gay, and demanded to know the names of other gay men he knew in Chechnya. “Sometimes they were trying to get information from me; other times they were just amusing themselves,” he said, speaking about the ordeal he underwent just a month ago with some difficulty.
Adam’s testimony, as well as that of another gay Chechen man with whom the Guardian spoke, backs up reports that a shocking anti-gay campaign is under way in the Russian republic of Chechnya, involving over a hundred and possibly several hundred men. Some are believed to have been killed.
Adam was held in an informal detention facility with more than a dozen other gay men, who were all subjected to torture on a daily basis. A similar “mop-up” campaign by governmental security forces took place in towns across the republic.
Igor Kochetkov, a gay rights activist from St Petersburg, has helped organise an emergency contact centre which gay people in Chechnya can reach out to securely to get help with evacuation. He said “dozens” of people had got in touch to ask for help. Many are in hiding from both their families and the authorities.
“We are talking about the mass persecution of gay people, with hundreds of people kidnapped by authorities,” Kochetkov told the Guardian. “This is unprecedented not only in Russia but in recent world history. There is little doubt that we are dealing with crimes against humanity.”
Under the Moscow-backed local leader Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya has been rebuilt after two brutal separatist conflicts in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Kadyrov pledges allegiance to Vladimir Putin and a love for Russia, and in return the Kremlin turns a blind eye to human rights abuses. Critics say Kadyrov’s notorious battalions have long operated outside the law.
Journalists at the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which first reported the story, say they have incontrovertible evidence that at least three gay men have been killed since the operation started, and believe the full death toll could be much higher. Chechen society is extremely conservative and homophobic, and there are fears that some gay men may have been killed by their families after being outed by authorities.
“I don’t know what has happened to the others. It’s too dangerous to contact people, because everyone’s phones are monitored,” said Adam.
Due to the extreme sensitivity of the subject and the danger of reprisals both against the men themselves and against their families, the names in this article have been changed, and identifying details have been excised. Both men with whom the Guardian spoke are now outside Chechnya but asked that their current location not be revealed.