Chechnya gay purge’s forgotten lesbian and transgender victims

It has been more than a year since news emerged of a crisis unfolding in Chechnya. Hundreds of gay men were being abducted and held in makeshift prison camps, where they were being tortured and killed.

A report published in the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta in April 2017 described how at least 100 men had been detained, with many more missing.

The crisis is still ongoing and human rights groups are working to evacuate those under threat from the region. But the gay purge, as it has been dubbed, is not just affecting men—lesbian and transgender women are being targeted, too.

Zamira*, a transgender woman from Chechnya, tells PinkNews she found out about the anti-LGBT purge last year. Although she didn’t believe it for a long time, she lived her life in hiding.

“I did not go out, I communicated with very few people. So I saw this information online only and like many others I believed that it was not true,”  she says, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Until the moment they started to hunt me.”

Zamira managed to flee Chechnya with the help of human rights activists working on the ground in the Russian autonomous region. She is now out of the region and living in relative safety in an undisclosed location, but she is still afraid.

“Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night, and I am afraid that there is someone behind the door,” she says.

“I am afraid to be alone. Once I was so scared that I blocked the entrance door with a bookshelf and refrigerator. This fear stays even with those who left Russia.”

A protest in Berlin calling on Russian President to put an end to the persecution of gay men in Chechnya. (JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty)

Initially, reports only detailed information about men being kidnapped, tortured and murdered at the hands of Chechen authorities. Yet Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-approved leader of Chechnya, has accused activists of fabricating allegations of abuse—and denied the existence of any LGBT people in the region.

“We were sure that women were also a target of this mass campaign but did not have any specific information,” a spokesperson for the Russian LGBT Network says.

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