Germany’s Angela Merkel challenges Putin over homophobic persecution during Russia visit

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel has pressed Vladimir Putin to investigate allegations of homophobic persecution in Chechnya, during a rare summit.

Human rights groups have raised concerns about the treatment of LGBT people in Chechnya, an autonomous region of Russia.

Reports last month alleged that more than 100 gay men have been detained in a ‘purge’ in the region, with many feared dead.

The journalist who broke the story has since fled the country amid death threats – but the Kremlin has flat-out denied any homophobic persecution is taking place.

Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin

Meanwhile, LGBT protesters in St Petersburg have allegedly faced arrest.

On a rare trip to Russia, German Chancellor Angela Merkel pressed Russian President Vladimir Putin to act.

She said: “We believe in an exchange even if there are differences of opinion. We spoke about the rights and opinions of civil society here in Russia.

“The right to demonstrate is important in a civil society, and I also highlighted the roles of NGOs.”

“We have received negative reports on the way that homosexuals are dealt with in Chechnya particularly, and I asked President Putin to use his influence to [help] gay people in the region.”

Petition: Stop the persecution of gay men in Chechnya

Putin did not respond to her comments.

Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta says it has evidence that gay people are being rounded up and held in secret prisons in the region. They face torture and degrading treatment

A number of the UN’s most senior experts on human rights called for action against the purge.

They include UN LGBT rights expert Vitit Muntarbhorn – alongside Sètondji Roland Adjovi (Chair-Rapporteur of the Working on Arbitrary Detention), Agnes Callamard (Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions), Nils Melzer (Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment or punishment) and David Kaye (Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection the right to freedom of opinion and expression.).

The experts wrote: “We urge the authorities to put an end to the persecution of people perceived to be gay or bisexual in the Chechen Republic who are living in a climate of fear fuelled by homophobic speeches by local authorities.

“It is crucial that reports of abductions, unlawful detentions, torture, beatings and killings of men perceived to be gay or bisexual are investigated thoroughly.

“These are acts of persecution and violence on an unprecedented scale in the region, and constitute serious violations of the obligations of the Russian Federation under international human rights law.”

Much of the abuse is reported to have taken place at an unofficial detention centre close to the city of Argun.

The arrested men are subjected to physical and verbal abuse, torture including with electric shocks, beatings, insults and humiliations. They are forced to give contact details of other gay people and threatened with having their sexual orientation disclosed to their family and community – a move which could put them at risk of ‘honour killings’.

“We call on the authorities to proceed with the immediate release of everyone unlawfully detained in the Republic of Chechnya on the basis of their actual or perceived sexual orientation, to conduct prompt, thorough and impartial investigations into all suspected cases of abduction, unlawful detention, torture and unlawful killing, and to ensure that all those involved in such acts are held to account, and that victims are provided with effective remedy” the experts said.

The UN experts are also concerned about alleged homophobic statements made by local authorities, denying the existence in the Republic of persons with so-called ‘non-traditional’ sexual orientation and condoning the killing of gay men by family members and other citizens.

The experts condemned statements by Chechen officials suggesting that gay people should be hunted down and killed and warned that such comments constituted incitement to hatred and violence.

“The Russian Federation must officially state that it does not tolerate any form of incitement to violence, social stigmatization of homosexuality or hate speech, and does not condone discrimination or violence against people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“We call on Russia to take urgent measures to protect the life, liberty and security of gay and bisexual people in Chechnya and to investigate, prosecute and punish acts of violence motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation,” the UN human rights experts concluded.”

UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson also condemned the purge

Mr Johnson tweeted: “Outrageous Chechnya govt supports rather than stops ill-treatment of #LGBT people. Completely agree w/ [junior Foreign Office minister] Joyce Anelay”.

In a previous statement to PinkNews, Baroness Anelay called on Russia to investigate the mass detention of gay men in Chechnya and ensure the perpetrators are brought to justice.

Baroness Anelay said: “The detention and ill-treatment of over 100 gay men in Chechnya is extremely concerning. Reports have also suggested that at least three of these men have been killed.

“The statement by the regional Government, implying that such treatment towards LGBT people is acceptable, is particularly abhorrent. We condemn any and all persecution, and call on the authorities to promptly investigate and ensure that perpetrators of human rights abuses are brought to justice.

“The human rights situation for LGBT people in Russia has deteriorated significantly in recent years and we continue to voice our serious concern with Russian authorities at all levels.

“Russia’s international human rights obligations require them to protect citizens who may be at risk of persecution. We expect the Russian government to fulfil its obligations to this end, and to uphold the rule of law.”