The U.S. Is Turning Away Gay Men Being Tortured In Chechnya. So Lithuania Is Picking Up The Slack

"It's very important to act, because they are suffering," says Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius.

By now, reports about atrocities committed against gay men in Chechnya are widespread, with stories of detainees being electrocuted, beaten, sodomized, and even murdered.

Rescue networks have been working tirelessly to get victims out of the region, but even though U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley said  the reports of this abuse “cannot be ignored,” a representative for the Russian LGBT Network told BuzzFeed, “We were informed that the U.S. is not going to issue visas for people from Chechnya.”

The UK has similarly signaled it wouldn’t issue visas, either.

People protesting supporting LGTB in Chechnya
Marcos del Mazo/LightRocket via Getty Images

At this point, the number of countries that are accepting refugees from the Chechan purge is rather small: The BBC reports activists are talking with five countries, two of which aren’t in the EU. While details are generally being kept quiet to preserve asylum-seekers’ safety, Lithuania has acknowledged it accepted two gay men fleeing Chechnya.

“It’s very important to act, because they are suffering,” Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius said. He wouldn’t name the other countries involved but described them as “allies.” Linkevicius said his country’s decision to act was an “implicit message” to Russia, that “we are taking care of Russian citizens… [whose] rights were abused.”

In all, the Russian LGBT Network has helped evacuate approximately 43 men from Chechnya, with dozens more in hiding throughout Russia. One victim, who fled to Moscow after being held for nearly two weeks, told Vice News he was picked up after messages from him were found on another gay man’s phone.

“The same night, they started torturing me just the same as the others,” recalls “David” (not his real name). “They wanted to know who we knew, the ones that were part of the LGBT community.”

David says the jailers used electricity to get them to divulge the names of other gay men.

“For many, the tips of their fingers were bursting because the electricity was coming out of the bodies that way,” he recalls. Prisoners were also forced to beat each other up, their wounds left untreated.

“When the wounds started to rot, they put bags on us,” he says. “They put bags on our heads.”

After weeks of complaints, Vladimir Putin finally authorized an investigation into abuses in the region. Days later, the Russian ambassador to Israel declared an inquiry had concluded that “there are no victims of persecution, threats or violence.”

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