What’s Behind Chechnya’s Crackdown on Gay Men?

What’s Behind Chechnya’s Crackdown on Gay Men?
Activists outside the Russian Embassy protest against the treatment of suspected gay and bisexual men in Chechnya, London, April 12, 2017 (Rex Features photo via AP Images).

On April 1, the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta broke the news that security officials in Chechnya had rounded up at least 100 men suspected of being gay or bisexual, and that several had been killed either in custody or in so-called “honor killings” carried out by their families. Last week, United Nations experts reported that men were being subjected to verbal abuse, beatings and electric shocks. In an email interview, Kyle Knight, a researcher with the LGBT Rights Program at Human Rights Watch, discusses possible reasons for the crackdown and options for an effective international response.

WPR: What do we know about the recent crackdown on gay men in Chechnya, what has yet to be confirmed, and how difficult is it to verify reports from the area?

Kyle Knight: Human Rights Watch has been able to interview victims of the anti-gay purge in Chechnya after they have escaped the region and corroborate many of the details that were initially reported by Novaya Gazeta. Since late February, law enforcement and security agency officials in Chechnya have rounded up approximately 200 men on suspicion of being gay, and tortured and humiliated them. Some of the men have been forcibly disappeared, others were returned to their families severely beaten. Novaya Gazeta found that police hold the men for periods ranging from one day to several weeks, and in many cases “outed” them to their families and encouraged their relatives to restore family honor through “honor killings.”

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