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.
An Amnesty International activist in Turkey holds up a sign for Chechnya to mark the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia on 3 June
Sir Ian McKellen joined a protest in London, led by Amnesty UK and Stonewall UK
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.
In Washington DC, protesters gathered in front of the residence of the Russian Ambassador demanding an investigation
In London, activists from Amnesty International and Stonewall UK laid rainbow roses on a rainbow flag outside the Russian Embassy
Activists in Canada remind the Chechen authorities that the world is watching
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.
Activists from Amnesty Australia ringing the doorbell of the Russian Consulate in Sydney, where they handed in thousands of signatures
In the Netherlands, Amnesty activists handed in 44,700 signatures demanding an end to the persecution
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.
Activists in the Netherlands released 100 black balloons outside the Russian Embassy, each with a rainbow coloured ribbon attached and #Chechnya100 spelled out in white letters. More than 100 men are believed to have been rounded up in the crackdown.
Activists in Spain gathered outside the Russian Embassy wearing black hoods, to remind the Russian authorities of the horrific experiences of gay men in Chechnya, who have been tortured and beaten as part of the purge.
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.
In France, activists gathered in front of the Eiffel Tower with a banner which read “Stop homophobia in Chechnya” ahead of a meeting between French president Macron and Russian President Putin. After his meeting with President Putin, President Macron said he had urged his Russian counterpart to ensure that the rights of LGBT people are protected.
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.
The message from activists in London: #WeExist