Over the weekend, over one hundred LGBTQ people in the Russian state of Chechnya were arrested and imprisoned after the Chechen government imposed a crackdown on homosexuality. According to the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, an additional three people were killed in the raids. The response across the globe, particularly within the LGBTQ community, has been one of shock and anger, and human rights organizations have denounced the raids.
In conservative Chechnya, LGBTQ lifestyles are discouraged and often punished with violence and social exclusion. A spokesperson for the Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said that the report from Novaya Gazeta is utterly false citing that LGBTQ people simply do not exist in the Chechen republic, and if they were there, their families would have sent them away long before any raids could be conducted. This sweeping generalization of LGBTQ people in Chechnya perpetuates the identity erasure many Chechens have experienced under Kadyrov.
Ramzan Kadyrov has been at the center of a number of human rights violations in Chechnya in recent years. A close ally to Putin, Kadyrov has exhibited a barbaric and “medieval” approach to power. A number of activists and journalists have worked to expose Kadyrov and his administration of the human rights abuses, especially the accusations of unlawful detention of Chechen citizens and torture. Coincidentally, two individuals connected to these revelations have mysteriously died, including journalist Anna Politkovskaya who was killed in 2006. Her murder remains unsolved.
Human rights abuse investigations are nothing new in Russia, especially with regards to LGBTQ citizens. Vladimir Putin’s government signed an anti-LGBTQ propaganda law a few years ago, sparking outrage in international LGBTQ communities. Nevertheless, LGBTQ citizens have continued to express opposition to the Putin regime. The punk band Pussy Riot! has been notoriously vocal in their protests to Vladimir Putin and the Russian government. Russian citizens as a whole have been extremely critical of the government. Just last week, tens of thousands of people protested in Moscow, which led to the arrest and detention of nearly a thousand people, including foreign journalists, highlighting the issue of free and independent speech in Russia.
The mass raids against LGBTQ people in Chechnya have prompted significant backlash against Vladimir Putin and Ramzan Kadyrov. Despite the crackdown, LGBTQ Russians have continued to speak out against both regimes, including one gay man who handcuffed himself to a bridge in St. Petersburg in protest to the claims that the Novaya Gazeta report is merely an “April Fools prank.” Regardless of the outrageous claims the Russian and Chechen governments have touted, it is paramount that we take the reports of the detention and execution of LGBTQ Russians very seriously, especially as the current Trump administration continues to cozy up with dangerous individuals in Moscow and Chechnya.