Homophobic crackdowns last year were chilling, but more than ever people are rising against them

It’s nearly a year since reports surfaced of a carefully orchestrated campaign by Chechen police in which more than a hundred men were abducted and detained within the space of a few weeks.

Marked by its extreme brutality, the region-wide crackdown left at least three men dead, while many more were tortured in detention.

The only ‘crime’ of these men was that they were suspected of being gay. The victims reported that they were tortured in order to force them to ‘out’ others.

The NGO Russian LGBT Network laid out in harrowing detail the dehumanising ordeal these men faced. They were subjected to severe beatings, electrocution, sleep deprivation. They were denied food and water, forced to sleep on concrete floors and routinely humiliated.

But state-sponsored homophobic persecution is not unique to Chechnya. Amnesty International’s latest annual report on the state of human rights reveals the alarming scale of mass arrests and persecution of LGBTI people that took place last year.

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Related: Chechnya has opened concentration camps for gay men

Take Azerbaijan, for example; 83 people were detained in September in a police raid, with many beaten, denied access to lawyers and sentenced to up to three weeks in administrative detention. An Azerbaijani government official was quoted in the media saying the raid was in response to complaints from locals that LGBTI people were not “respecting others around them”.

The following month, 51 people were arrested in Indonesia when police raided a sauna in Jakarta, claiming that it was hosting a ‘gay sex party.’
And at least 76 people were arrested in Egypt, for “debauchery” under the country’s prostitution’s law, after some audience members raised a rainbow flag at a music concert in Cairo in September. Several men detained were subjected to forced anal examinations, in violation of international prohibitions against cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

When decriminalising homosexuality is not enough

Beyond the flagrant persecution of LGBTI communities, these cases share something else in common: of the hundreds arrested, not a single person was detained under laws that explicitly prohibit same-sex sexual activity. This is because no such laws exist in these countries.

Russia, Azerbaijan, and Egypt are not among the 72 nations that explicitly criminalise sex between adults of the same gender. Neither does Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta. Instead, police and criminal justice systems use other laws to harass, arrest and detain LGBTI people.

In Chechnya, the brutal crackdown was facilitated by a climate of homophobia and impunity for police harassment. Police can freely arrest people on inflated charges and Russian laws banning “the promotion of non-traditional sexual relationships among minors” could have also been a reason why there was no public outcry in Russia in response to this outrageous campaign.

Demonstrators lay roses on a rainbow flag as they protest over an alleged crackdown on gay men in Chechnya

(Getty Images)

Related: One LGBT family’s account of running away from Russia

Other similarly ambiguous or vague laws are being exploited elsewhere.

Those convicted in Azerbaijan were done so largely on the basis of police allegations that they were “resisting the police’s legitimate orders.”
And it is common practice to see scores of people charged with “habitual debauchery” in Egypt.

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