When reports emerged in April that the Chechen authorities have been detaining, torturing and even killing gay men, as part of a deplorable campaign to purge the republic of people of “non-traditional orientation”, there was international outcry.
The response of the Chechen authorities was to claim that gay men do not exist – even as they defended killing them in the name of “honour”.
The aggressive homophobia of the Chechen authorities is replicated throughout society, so that gay men have to hide their identities even from their families and closest friends for fear of being attacked and killed.
One man told Amnesty International that he knew of a gay man who was shot by his relatives and not given a burial. “For a Muslim, having no funeral is particularly hard. It’s as if this person has never existed, that no-one has the right to remember him.”
But gay Chechens do exist. They are real, and they are in desperate need of real help.
Since the story broke, Amnesty International activists from all over the world been coming together in defiance of the authorities’ senseless denials, to express their support and solidarity with gay people in Chechnya.
Last week we handed in more than half a million signatures to Russian embassies around the world, demanding an end to this horrifying persecution and a proper investigation into the allegations. Signatures were collected from countries as far apart as Taiwan and Brazil.
We have also been putting on stunts outside Russian embassies around the world, designed to show gay Chechens that we recognize them and that we demand their protection.
The toxic mixture of a deeply conservative society and the climate of fear engendered by Ramzan Kadyrov’s repressive rule means that the Chechen authorities can attack gay men in broad daylight with no fear of being held to account.
Amnesty International spoke to witnesses who described how men suspected of being gay are publicly humiliated when the authorities come for them – dragged away in front of their families and colleagues, putting them at risk of reprisals even if they are eventually released.
Gay men need to get out of Chechnya now.
That’s why Amnesty International is asking international governments open their doors to gay men fleeing Chechnya. It is vital that the governments who have rightly spoken out in condemnation of these atrocities follow up by ensuring those Chechens who are seeking international protection are granted access to fair asylum procedures.
All too often, governments of wealthy countries do not do enough to help people fleeing persecution reach safety. That’s why actions like these are so important.
They mean ordinary people can send a strong message to the Russian authorities: that we’re not backing down, and we will continue to campaign until every last gay person in Chechnya is safe.