A gay man who escaped torture in Chechnya has spoken about his harrowing experience amidst Russia’s ‘anti-gay purge’.
27-year-old Amin Dzhabrailov fled to Canada through the Rainbow Railroad, a non-profit that helps LGBT+ people escape from countries where their sexuality puts their lives in danger.
Speaking at a Rainbow Railroad fundraiser in Winnipeg on Thursday, September 12, he described to CBC his ordeal as a gay man in the Russian republic.
“It was awful,” he said, remembering the day in March 2017 when Russian soldiers kidnapped him from the hair salon he worked at. “I was colouring hair and it was my usual day. I had lunch and they just came — some guys with guns.”
The men handcuffed Dzhabrailov and drove him to a torture facility where he was held for two weeks with roughly 17 other gay men.
Since Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency in 2012, new repressive laws and policies, and reprisals against human rights defenders and activists, have had a crippling effect on vital human rights work in the country, said Amnesty International in a new briefing Unfair Game: Persecution of Human Rights Defenders in Russia Intensifies released today.
“Human rights work in present-day Russia is like navigating a minefield. Every day poses a new threat to a human rights defender; whether it’s severe beatings by ‘unknown’ assailants who have never been found, criminal prosecution and imprisonment for a crime that has never been committed, financial starvation through bank account freezes and extortionate fines, or intrusive state media attention targeting close relatives,” said Natalia Prilutskaya, Amnesty International’s Russia Researcher.
Every day poses a new threat to a human rights defender; whether it’s severe beatings by ‘unknown’ assailants who have never been found, prosecution for a crime that has never been committed, financial starvation through bank account freezes and extortionate fines, or intrusive state media attention targeting close relatives
The briefing exposes the wide range of instruments the authorities have used over the past seven years to restrict, obstruct or halt human rights work in Russia. These include the passing of new restrictive laws, persecution of human rights defenders, and condoning the attacks on and threats to activists.
According to the briefing, those protecting human rights in Chechnya and Russia’s LGBTI activists are among the most targeted, with numerous vicious attacks recorded. For example, Igor Kochetkov from St Petersburg, whose organization Russian LGBT Network exposed the crimes against gay men in Chechnya, received death threats in January 2019 through a video that circulated widely on social media. To date there is no indication that police have effectively investigated the matter.
Beatings, electric shock treatment and forced starvation for LGBT+ community in ‘secret’ Chechnya prisons, NGO reports
Abuses were ‘directed by the highest officials of Chechnya’, report says
Severe beatings, electric shock treatment and forced starvation continue to be perpetrated against the LGBT+ community in Chechnya, a leading Russian NGO has said.
At least 36 people have suffered “abusive treatment” in secret prisons over the past year according to the Russian LGBT Network, an NGO based in St Petersburg, which cited testimonies alleging the abuses were “directed by the highest officials of Chechnya”.
“The victims were subjected to tortures, humiliations, and other measures that harm their physical and psychological well-being,” the group said.
The claims are contained within a report prepared with Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which in April of last year exposed the arrest, torture and murder of members of the Chechen LGBT+ community.
The paper wrote that Chechen police had rounded up more than 100 gay men in a “prophylactic sweep”, killed three and subjected many to prison beatings and electro-shock torture.
Kheda Saratova, an activist on the humans rights council of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, responded at the time: “I haven’t had a single request on this issue, but if I did, I wouldn’t even consider it.”
“In our Chechen society, any person who respects our traditions and culture will hunt down this kind of person without any help from authorities,” she added.