First Person In Chechnya To Come Out As Gay Says He Was Forced To “Apologize” To The Country

"They made it clear that if I continue to talk, there would be problems," says Movsar Eskarkhanov.

A gay man who went public with his story of being persecuted in Chechnya says he was forced to apologize on national television after his family received death threats.

Earlier this year, Movsar Eskarkhanov told Time magazine he was one of the many LGBT people harassed and threatened during the country’s ongoing anti-gay purge.

“They tell me that a demon lives inside me,” he claimed. “It’s getting worse here. Before somebody kills me, I want to tell my story to the world.”

But in November, Eskarhanov appeared on state television, recanting his accusations.

Claiming he had been forced into lying about being gay, he insisted his “coming out” was made under the influence of epilepsy medication.

СЕНСАЦИОННОЕ РАССЛЕДОВАНИЕ ЧГТРК «ГРОЗНЫЙ» В ДЕЛЕ МОВСАРА ЭСКЕРХАНОВА. Рассказ о том, как западные СМИ использовали душевно больного человека, якобы сбежавшего из Чеченской Республики. Собственный корреспондент ЧГТРК "Грозный" в Германии Беслан Дадаев провел шокирующее расследование. Ждите новых фактов в истории Мовсара Эскерханова. Скоро на телеканале «Грозный»! #ЧГТРК #Чечня #Грозный

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“They disgraced me before the Chechen people and the Chechen leader, I was framed,” he told Grozny TV. “That’s why I apologize to the residents of Chechnya, the leadership of Chechnya, the Chechens living in the North Caucasus and Europe.” The report labeled him as a “mentally-ill person” and blamed the Western media for sensationalizing his story.

This week Eskarkhanov, now living as a refugee in Germany, came forward claiming his retraction was made under duress.

“They made it clear that if I continue to talk, there would be problems,” he told Kavkazsky Uzel on Monday. “They said that I must first think about my family.”

NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP/Getty Images

Chechens who criticize the republic’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, are often forced to give televised apologies: Zelimkhan Bakaev, a Chechen singer believed to have been tortured to death, appeared in an odd video in September, claiming he was fine and living in Germany. Human rights activists question the veracity of the clip, however.

In October, another victim, Maxim Lapunov, recounted being arrested, locked in a blood-soaked cellar, and beaten repeatedly after named by other detainees. “The only charge they made was that I was gay,” Lapunov told reporters. “I could hardly walk. I was sure they were going to kill me, I was preparing for that.”

Reports of arrests, torture and even murder have been coming out of Chechnya since April, though President Ramzan Kadyrov maintains there are no gay people in the country. “If there are any gays… take them away from us,” he said in July. “To purify our blood, if there are any, take them.”

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.
@ItsDanAvery