Gay refugees fear being kidnapped and taken back to Chechnya

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Gay men who have fled the gay purge in Chechnya have expressed fears that they may be kidnapped and taken back there to face imprisonment, torture or death.

Reports that “concentration camps” for gay people in the Russian region first emerged in April of this year, with claims that men had been tortured and murdered there.

Some gay men successfully fled the country, with Canada, France Germany and the Netherlands accepting refugees from the region.

Protesting Chechnya

Berliner protesting the gay purge in Chechnya (John MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images)

Those who have fled not only fear retribution taken on their families still in Chechnya, but even the prospect of being forced to return against their will.

Related: What is happening with gay people in Chechnya?

One gay man, Bula, who had been abducted and tortured in the Chechen capital Grozny, told Human Rights Watch of his concerns.

“A few days ago, the police came to my parent’s house in Chechnya,” he said.

Chechnya protesters

Protesters outside the Russian embassy in London (JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images)

“They demanded that I come back. If not, they said they would return to take revenge and arrest my father. Arrest means torture or worse.”

He added: “We received text messages from people we met only once or twice in Grozny.

“They say they want to meet with us here in this country or elsewhere in Western Europe. But we suspect they want to trick us and abduct us to Chechnya.”

Bula and fellow Chechen refugee Zelim are currently living in a Western European country.

They explained that they had been abducted, tortured and blackmailed in Grozny.

They had also been beaten by fellow Chechens after they had fled to Moscow, before their eventual departure from Russia.

Demonstrators LGBT Russia Britain

Demonstrators outside the Russian embassy (Getty Images)

Chechnya’s leader Ramzan Kadyrov has said that he would defend the rights of families to murder their gay relatives.

“If we have such people here, then I’m telling you officially, their relatives won’t let them be, because of our faith, our mentality, customs and traditions,” he said.

“Even if it’s punishable under the law, we would still condone it.”

He has repeatedly denied that gay people exist in Chechnya, adding: “This is nonsense. We don’t have those kinds of people here.

“We don’t have any gays. If there are any, take them to Canada.

An activist stands naked, wrapped in a rainbow flag, in a mock cage

Protests in Berlin (Getty)

“Praise be to God. Take them far from us so we don’t have them at home. To purify our blood, if there are any here, take them.”

LGBT charity Rainbow Railroad helped rescue 31 gay and bisexual men from Chechnya.

The charity managed to do this by arranging emergency visas and travel to Canada, angering Russian officials.

Vladimir Putin and Ramzan Kadyrov

Vladimir Putin and Ramzan Kadyrov (Alexey Druzhinin/AFP/Getty Images)

Chechnya is part of Russia, and despite countless anti-LGBT laws there, same-sex sexual activity in private between consenting adults was decriminalised in 1993 after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Petition: Russian authorities: Stop the persecution of gay men in Chechnya

However, Chechnya’s semi-autonomous status means that it retains own legal code on some issues.

Chechnya's leader Ramzan Kadyrov

Chechnya’s leader Ramzan Kadyrov (AFP / ELENA FITKULINA/Getty Images)

It still has some legal autonomy – including on issues like same-sex sexual activity – and current leader Kadyrov has been outspoken in his criticism of LGBT people.

The Russian LGBT Network helped evacuate 40 gay men from Chechnya, first to other Russian regions, before enabling them to leave the country.

In May, Lithuania granted asylum to two gay and bi Chechens fleeing the region.

Protestors in Paris (Getty Images)

Protestors in Paris (Getty Images)

One refugee was resettled in Germany, with the foreign ministry official confirming that “a visa was issued and the person was able to come to Germany on June 6”.

Another gay man who was resettled in France later opened up about his experience.

After the gay purge gained international attention and criticism many hoped it had been halted, but it was reported to have resumed in July.