Reports of suspected homosexuals being detained, beaten and even murdered in Chechnya first surfaced in April. Now footage from inside one of the alleged concentration camps where gay men say they were imprisoned has surfaced.
When investigators went to a disused military headquarters in Argun, one of the purported detention sites, it had been buried in construction debris. But Vice News obtained permission to film inside, speaking with local officials as well as an alleged victim of the anti-gay pogrom.
In the segment, journalist Hind Hassan explains how her crew was met by police and closely escorted throughout their investigation. She is led through what’s described as a “warehouse” by prison warden Ayub Kataev, who is eager to show how the facilities could not possibly have been used to house prisoners.
“Imagine if there are gays. Would we, the Chechens, communicate with them at all?” Kataev asks her. “My officers would not even want to touch such people—if they exist—let alone beating or torturing them.”
Kataev’s strange denial echoes comments by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who both denied the existence of homosexuals in the region and promised to eradicate any gays by the start of Ramadan last month.
Tatiana Lokshina, the Russian program director for Human Rights Watch tells Vice the decision to let their cameras into Argun was made by high-level governmental officials eager to deflect the international outcry over the purge. The testimony her group has compiled from victims, says Lokshina, is “very weighty and very credible.”
Svetlana Zaharava of the Russian LGBT Network has also been contacted by LGBT people fearing for their lives. “They call us and say they’re scared, or their friends are missing, or they’ve managed to escape and they need help.”
One victim was reportedly beaten with a hose and strapped to a homemade “electric chair,” where he forced him to divulge the names of other gay men. Others tell of being forced to fight fellow prisoners.
“Chechnya is a specific region and human rights don’t exist there,” said Zaharava. “It’s almost impossible to be an open LGBT person in Chechnya, that is why people are so stigmatized, and why the gay victims’ parents wouldn’t cooperate with law enforcement [in investigating the disappearances]. It’s because they’re ashamed.”
Meanwhile, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled against Russia’s gay “propaganda” ban, claiming it serves “no legitimate public service”.
Adopted in 2013, the law banning promotion of homosexuality to minors, but has led to censorship, harassment and violence against LGBT people throughout the country.
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