Russian government to finally investigate persecution of gay men in Chechnya

Vladimir Putin

A close friend of the Russian government will investigate allegations of homophobic persecution in Chechnya.

The move comes just days after German Chancellor Angela Merkel publicly pressed Russian President Vladimir Putin to do just that during a rare summit between the two leaders.

Russia’s human rights ombudsman Tatyana Moskalkova asked Putin today to back her request to form a group in Moscow and investigate actions taken against gay people in Chechnya, an autonomous region of the country.

The Russian President agreed to the proposal, according to Associated Press.

However, Putin referred to the reports of imprisonment, torture and killings of gay men in Chechnya as “well-known information, or rumours” about what is happening to people “with a non-traditional sexual orientation.”

And the person charged with the investigation, Moskalkova, is a former major general of the Interior Ministry and ex-MP of a pro-government party.

Human rights groups in the country criticised her appointment a year ago, particularly as unlike most of her predecessors, Moskalkova has a distinct lack of experience as a human rights activist.

Putin’s comments reflected the unwillingness of Russian officials – including him – to acknowledge what has been called a ‘gay purge’.

Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s Press Secretary, said last month that the president had no reason to doubt the Chechen leader’s denial that a gay purge was taking place in his region.

And as reports of the atrocities emerged from the region, a spokesperson for Chechnya’s leader Ramzan Kadyrov gave a particularly chilling response when he denied there were any gay people to detain.

He insisted that “you can’t detain and harass someone who doesn’t exist in the republic”.

Earlier this week, Merkel responded to the situation in Chechnya by saying as she stood next to Putin: “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.”

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

And this week, Chechnya’s police force issued a chilling warning to the parents of gay men.

According to a survivor’s account, the authorities have instructed parents in the region to murder their gay children for “honour”.

Police are threatening parents with the line: “Either you do it, or we will,” one man who survived the brutality has said.

And journalists from the area say they have uncovered evidence of at least six prisons in the region holding people because of their sexual orientation.

The newspaper also claims that the men, who face torture in jail, are only released once their families offer bribes to police.

Editors of Russian newspaper have since said they fear that the “entire staff” on the paper are at serious risk after they uncovered the gay purge in Chechnya.

The paper’s staff have said that hundreds of gay men had been detained and some killed in the region of Russia.

Since breaking the story the staff have received serious threats to their lives.

In a statement released by the editors of the paper, they detailed a meeting of over 15,000 people headed by Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya’s leader, reportedly accused the newspaper of libel and declared it and the staff “enemies of our faith and of our country”.

It comes after Britain’s deputy foreign secretary revealed a terrifying threat from President Kadyrov while taking an urgent question on the situation in parliament.

Sir Alan Duncan, Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, told parliament: “Human rights groups report that these anti-gay campaigns and killings are orchestrated by the head of the Chechen republic, Ramzan Kadyrov.”

“He has carried out other violent campaigns in the past, and this time he is directing his efforts at the LGBT community.”

“Sources have said that he wants the [LGBT] community eliminated by the start of Ramadan.”

The minister added: “Such comments, attitudes and actions are absolutely beyond contemptible.”

PinkNews has spoken to the Foreign Office, who verified that President Kadyrov had made the threat in local Russian language media, seen by the UK government.

Ramadan starts on May 26 this year, and is widely celebrated in Chechnya, which is a predominantly Muslim area.

These allegations have been supported by human rights groups, and led to the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights, UK and US governments to call for the Kremlin to investigate.

Foreign secretary Boris Johnson’s deputy, who is gay himself, labelled the reported abuses of gay men as “utterly barbaric” and “despicable” in a strongly worded statement to the Commons.

However a spokesperson for Vladimir Putin has said the Russian president has no reason to believe the attacks are genuine.

Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s Press Secretary, claimed that investigators have found no evidence to support reports of the purge, which originated in respected newspaper Novaya Gazeta, according to Associated Press.

The Chechen republic is a federal subject of Russia, but has its own government and court system.

Petition: Stop the persecution of gay men in Chechnya

Last month, Putin had a meeting with Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who told the Russian president not to believe the “provocative” articles.

He also accused international organisations of conducting a “massive information attack using the most unworthy methods, reality is distorted, attempts are being made to blacken our society, lifestyle, traditions and customs.”