Chechnya is horrified by stories of gay torture, because it says there are no gays in Chechnya
Chechen state television promised over the weekend to produce a tell-all investigation into reports on the torture of gay men in that Russian republic - not into the question of torture itself, but into how the story saw the light of day.
It said that the existence of gays in Chechnya was “invented by opposition media”.
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov on Sunday blamed “so-called human rights organisations” that, he wrote in a social media post, were “using the most unworthy methods, distorting reality, trying to blacken our society, lifestyle, traditions and customs.”
Chechnya has called on the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which first reported on the abuse and killings of gay men there, to recant its article.
“To finish this dangerous conflict between us once and for all, you have to fulfil just three conditions,” wrote Djambulat Umarov, the minister for social politics in the Chechen Republic. “First, you must apologise to the Chechen people for the disgusting nonsense that you spread.” He also demanded that reporters abandon using anonymous sources and stop complaining of threats received from Chechnya.
Elena Milashina, one of two Novaya Gazeta reporters who broke the story, has gone into hiding after threats on her life were sent to her.
Police and other law enforcement under Kadyrov, who fought against the Russian government during Chechnya’s civil war before changing sides, and who was named leader of Chechnya by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2007, have been accused of torture and collective punishment before. But the details of what appear to be the systematic imprisonment and torture of gay men in the republic, who Kadyrov insists do not exist, were particularly hair-raising.
“They attached wires from electroshockers to our hands and turned the dial of a generator, creating a shock. It was painful. I endured as much as I could, then lost consciousness and fell,” one man, who sent a photo showing bruises on his buttocks, wrote to Novaya Gazeta.
The newspaper reported that more than 100 men had been detained, and three had been killed. “When the current goes and your body starts to shake, you stop thinking and begin to scream. All this time you’re sitting and hear the screams of those being tortured.”
Russian officials insisted there was not enough information for an investigation. But soon after the story was published on April 1, Novaya Gazeta’s website was knocked out by a DDOS attack. Authorities in Chechnya, including religious leaders, began making threatening statements against the newspaper’s journalists.
“Insofar as an insult has been made against the age-old foundations of Chechen society and the dignity of male Chechens, as well as our faith, we promise that retribution will reach those who truly instigated this, wherever and whomever they may be, without a statute of limitations,” a collection of Islamic leaders supported by Kadyrov wrote in a statement.
For Novaya Gazeta, these are more than just idle threats. Two of the newspaper’s reporters who covered Chechnya and were critical of Kadyrov were murdered in 2006 and 2009.
The newspaper issued a defiant statement.
“Silence and inaction in such a situation make all of those able to do anything accomplices,” the newspaper wrote last week. “So Novaya Gazeta is continuing to work in Chechnya. But we understand very well how high a price we may pay. The still uninvestigated murders of our colleagues, Anna Politkovskaya and Natalya Estemirova, are clear proof of that.”