Survivors of Chechnya’s homophobic purge are, with very few exceptions, always anonymous.
Many people have fled for their lives. Officers could catch them and send them back to a concentration camp.
People are tortured, humiliated, beaten and electrocuted and murdered.
Very few can bear the pain without breaking.
Some former detainees have revealed what happened to them to Human Rights Watch.
The following survivors have all been given pseudonyms to protect their identities.
Survivors of Chechnya’s homophobic purge reveal what happened
One remembers a torture named the ‘carousel’. Security officials put you face down on the floor and beat you with pipes.
Officers, when they’re tired, also force other prisoners to carry on with the beating.
‘You literally turn black and blue from waist to toes,’ one survivor said.
Other survivors remembered the homemade electric chairs.
One said: ‘They turn the knob, electric current hits you, and you start shaking. And they keep turning the hellish machine, and the pain is just insane, you scream, and scream, and you no longer know who you are…
‘Finally, you faint, it all goes dark, but when you come to your senses, they start all over again.
‘And once they’re done with you and you get your bearings, you hear other inmates screaming, and the sounds of torture are just there all day, and at some point, you start losing your mind.’
Zurab, 32, spent a week in the detention facility.
On 1 March, he was arrested at his home. Quickly, he deleted his cell phone of all evidence of his communications with other gay men.
The police officer drove Zurab to a security compound. The officials dragged him into a room where he saw two gay acquaintances. One of them was bloodied and bruised from a recent beating.
The security official demanded to know who he was and his relationship with them. Zurab claimed they were just business contacts.
‘They beat me, they gave me electric shocks attaching wires to my ear-lobes,’ he said.
‘I would not give in. I insisted those two lied about me.’
He also said: ‘But the humiliation was the worst part of it.
‘They called me a ‘woman,’ a ‘fag,’ an ‘ass-bugger’… the most offensive things one can call a man. They mocked me, taunted me. I could not stand it. I wished they just killed me.’
Zurab was also not fed in seven days he spent there locked in a cage, losing 22 pounds in a week. He was given water in accordance with Muslim ritual and only after prayers.
Security officials released Zurab after finding no evidence he was gay. Two weeks later, a friend told him security officials had rounded up an ex-lover who had pictures of him on his phone.
‘I could not face another detention…’ he said, who fled to southern Europe.
He also said: ‘If they showed [it] to my relatives… If my father doesn’t kill me, my uncle will.’
A placard at a Chechnya protest in London, April 2017, targeting Russian President Putin for his inaction (Photo: David Hudson)
Khasan, a 20-year-old university student, was lured by an officer posing as a potential date.
The two met and the officer said there was an apartment outside the city limits.
After driving for 30 minutes, the officer posing as a gay man drove off the road into a field.
‘Three security officials in black uniforms were waiting for us there,’ Khasan said.
‘I understood everything as soon as I saw them, I begged him to turn back, I cried–but he pushed me out of the car.
‘They beat me, kicked me, and punched me in the face. They stripped me naked and filmed me on a cell phone, as they gave a running commentary about having caught a “faggot”.
The officials found Khasan’s phone and found intimate photographs and messages with other gay men.
Khasan was left with a broken jaw and bruises.
They said he had a month to deliver several thousand dollars or he would be outed to his family.
Khasan sold all his valuable electronic equipment, borrowed money and came up with the sum.
‘I did not have a choice. If my relatives found out about me being gay, the shame for the family would be unbearable,’ he said.
After he paid the ransom, he fled to join other survivors. He later learned that friends of his had been abducted – likely with information gathered from his phone. A friend’s mother called him in tears saying police had dragged her son away.
Magomed, 35, spent 11 days in the detention facility in Argun.
Three security officials accosted Magomed in a public place in Grozny. With them, a gay acquaintance was in handcuffs.
When the officials asked Magomed what they were after, he said no. One of the men then hit Magomed on the head.
Handcuffed, dragged into a car, he was driven to the camp. He was held there with around 40 to 50 people.
‘Every day it was torture, torture, and more torture,’ he said.
On his release, family members of many detainees had assembled in an official facility.
The officials shouted abuse while family members were forced to stand and listen.
Each detainee had to step forward, face his family and also ‘confess’ his sexual orientation.
‘Our relatives were in tears and they [officials] were telling them, “You know what to do now.”
‘They didn’t say “kill” but it was all crystal clear,’ Magomed said.
One of the detainees refused to ‘confess’ and security officials refused to release him to his relatives. Several other detainees were not released because their family members did not show up.
While officials ordered Magomed to not leave Chechnya, he kept hearing about detentions of gay people.
He immediately fled Chechnya for a neighboring region without even stopping to pack a bag, and from there went to central Russia.
‘My life is ruined. I cannot go back. And it’s not safe here [in central Russia] either,’ Magomed said.
Chechnya Crisis Appeal
As well as using our investigative journalism to keep you informed about what’s happening on-the-ground as it happens; we’re inviting you to make a difference today by donating to the Chechyna Crisis Appeal.
Every dollar, euro and pound you give will help evacuate LGBTI people in the most danger. And to pressure the Chechen authorities to stop this persecution.
Please also share our appeal with your followers, friends and family; ensuring we raise awareness and apply pressure to permanently end this abuse.