‘It’s like being on the edge of dying’: Chechnya man arrested and tortured for being gay

A gay man who escaped torture in Chechnya has spoken about his harrowing experience amidst Russia’s ‘anti-gay purge’.

27-year-old Amin Dzhabrailov fled to Canada through the Rainbow Railroad, a non-profit that helps LGBT+ people escape from countries where their sexuality puts their lives in danger.

Speaking at a Rainbow Railroad fundraiser in Winnipeg on Thursday, September 12, he described to CBC his ordeal as a gay man in the Russian republic.

“It was awful,” he said, remembering the day in March 2017 when Russian soldiers kidnapped him from the hair salon he worked at. “I was colouring hair and it was my usual day. I had lunch and they just came — some guys with guns.”

The men handcuffed Dzhabrailov and drove him to a torture facility where he was held for two weeks with roughly 17 other gay men.

The men were tortured almost every day and night as their captors demanded to know the names of other gay people. As well as mental abuse and beatings, a machine delivering electric shocks was clamped onto their ears, fingers and toes.

“They were using [their] feet, plastic pipes, long pipes,” Dzhabrailov said. “And after they started using electric shock. No one wanted to touch you with the hands just because you’re gay, and it’s disgusting.

“It’s like [being] on the edge of dying, especially when they’re using that machine which is making electricity. I was screaming to stop this.”

He considered suicide, but there was no chance to escape.

The nightmare finally ended when the soldiers brought Dzhabrailov and others to another location where his family was waiting. Once free, he knew he had to leave Russia as soon as possible.

Dzhabrailov’s friend (and now partner) got in touch with an LGBT+ network that connected them with Rainbow Railroad, which managed to get both men out of the country safely.

The pair are now enjoying their freedom in Toronto, but are keen for their story to serve as a reminder of the continuing horror faced by Chechnya’s LGBT+ community.

Actor Ian McKellen joined a protest over an alleged crackdown on gay men in Chechnya outside the Russian Embassy in London on June 2, 2017 (Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty)

Chechnya’s ongoing ‘anti-gay purge’

Chechnya first made headlines for its ‘anti-gay purge’ in 2017 when it was reported that police rounded up and tortured dozens of gay men they suspected of being gay.

In January this year reports of a renewed purge began emerging. Chechen officials initially denied it and blamed gay people’s “sick imagination”, but the accounts of torture and abuse soon became impossible to ignore.

In May, a Human Rights Watch investigation confirmed the renewed crackdown and substantiated claims that gay men were being detained, interrogated and tortured by police. In one case, a man was even raped with a stick.

Since April 2017, the Russian LGBT Network has evacuated around 150 people out of Chechnya, with the majority settling outside of Russia. Activists have received death threats and had their homes invaded.