Officials in Chechnya are reportedly baiting closeted gay men in the remote mountain region for arrest and even death.
Law enforcement began conducting sweeps after an LGBTQ activist applied for a Pride permit in the region, a Russia newspaper reports and a New York Times source confirms.
More than 100 men have allegedly been detained by security forces and the Russian newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, lists the names of three men reportedly murdered, with suspicions that others detained “in connection with their nontraditional sexual orientation, or suspicion of such,” may have died in extra judicial killings.
The men are believed to have been lured into a trap by law enforcement officials posing as potential dates on social networking sites. Because homosexuality is both legally and culturally forbidden, there is no gay “community,” making it difficult to warn men who are vulnerable to the sweeps.
“Of course, none of these people in any way demonstrated their sexual orientation publicly — in the Caucasus, this is equal to a death sentence,” the Russian newspaper wrote.
Government officials, in their denial of any sweeps, reinforced just how dangerous it is to be gay in Chechnya.
“You cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic,” a spokesman for Chechnya’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, told Interfax in a statement. “If such people existed in Chechnya, law enforcement would not have to worry about them, as their own relatives would have sent them to where they could never return.”
While gays have not typically been targeted in this way, Novaya Gazeta reports that recent actions by LGBTQ activists may have triggered the pre-emptive response. The crackdown followed applications for Pride parade permits in four cities in the predominately Muslim North Caucasus, of which Cheychnya is a part. No applications were submitted in Chechnya, but in other cities in the region, anti-gay protests broke out in response to the mere submission of an application.
According to the New York Times, Russian President Vladimir Putin has “empowered local leaders to press agendas of traditional Muslim values, to co-opt an Islamist underground.” The Pride parade applications have served as a spark to that powder keg.