A homosexual from Chechnya, who left Russia after his arrest, told the “Caucasian Knot” how people with non-traditional sexual orientation live in the republic and how the fate of his acquaintances in the LGBT community has developed after the start of mass raids on gays. According to the man, he managed to avoid torture, but the security forces cruelly tortured his close friend, and three familiar men were killed.
“THEY HAVE BEEN BURNING THROUGH THE CAMERA, SHANGED”
“Caucasian Knot” (CK): Magomed, are you a native of Chechnya? When did you realize your sexual orientation?
Magomed: I was born in Chechnya. My relatives remained there – mother, father, sisters. I realized my orientation after the first homosexual experience, at the age of 18.
CK: Before the persecution began, did any of your relatives and friends know about your orientation?
M .: No. They knew only those with whom I met, as they say, “friends on the topic.” There were no conflicts in the family about this.
CK: How did you communicate with people “off-topic”? Was there no fear that a wide range of people would know about your homosexual relationships?
M .: Of course, scary. Homosexuals are afraid to live not only in Chechnya, but also in general in Russia. Only in Chechnya, unlike in other regions where they can be beaten, crippled, taken away, a homosexual is threatened with death. They will kill, if not their own, so strangers, and no one will declare a blood feud, because they killed the “fagot”, “made good” the family.
I did not get acquainted with “outsiders” people. I knew what this is fraught with from the experience of other young guys who came across homophobes. At first, young people met at Mail.ru, then various mobile applications appeared with chat rooms. After dating, they made an appointment, and there they caught the guys. They were beaten, filmed, blackmailed. The killings began just recently.
CK: Was it difficult for you to make relationships and hide them from prying eyes?
M .: Very difficult. Imagine if the family of straight people had to hide their relationships and children, not to appear in society. We, gays, have the same relationship, with the exception of children. We had to hide from relatives, from colleagues, and from friends, and from fellow students. It is difficult and painful: for example, it was necessary to invent why a stranger was sitting at our family party.
CK: When information about your orientation has ceased to be a mystery to others?
M .: After the security forces caught me.
CK: Before the arrest, did you hear anything about the facts of the persecution? About prisons for homosexuals in Chechnya?
M .: From the very beginning of the repressions against homosexuals, our entire company knew about them. Homosexuals, especially in Chechnya, are a fairly solid and strong community. We can only be with ourselves like we are, therefore the links [between LGBT people] are very stable.
When the first information [about the persecution] appeared, I immediately sent it to my [friends] to whom I could. Some people, as is usually the case, were skeptical of the messages – they say that I hide well, nothing will happen to me. And then the torture began.
CK: Are there people among those close to the Chechen leadership who successfully hide their homosexuality?
M: Yes. I know them. They work quite normally.
CK: Families who have independently dealt with gay relatives try to hide this fact from society and explain the disappearance of a person by leaving or more often they say openly that he is killed?
M: No one openly raises this topic. And no one will talk about this with the family. The death of a man has already cleared the race, say the Chechens. And if you remind about this, then you will have to answer for your words.
CK: Does your family know about your sexual orientation?
M .: The male part is not. If they did, I wouldn’t be here.
“I was handed over under torture”
CK: How exactly did your persecution begin? Was this related to a specific incident — for example, did a security official select a mobile phone with photos?
M .: I was handed over under torture. In the spring of 2017 one of the homosexuals in inadequate condition was detained by the police. It is worth noting that in Chechnya, it is absolutely impossible to drink to [local residents]. A personal correspondence with a lover and photos with him, as well as an extensive base of phones, were discovered on the young man’s phone. My contact was not there, since I only gave my address and telephone number to a very narrow circle of people, but they came to me through another detainee, who was seized at that very base. I was stopped at one of the posts of Grozny when checking documents, taken to the police department. After a brief stint, they let go, but set a condition – I must disappear from Chechnya, and preferably from Russia.
For reasons of security, the interlocutor did not voice the circumstances of his release, therefore the “Caucasian Knot” did not ask any further details.
CK: Did you avoid torture?
M: Yes, this did not happen to me, but they tortured my close friend. For two weeks he was kept in the basement, beaten, tortured with electric current, and was not given any food or water. He survived only due to the fact that he was allowed to pray – during the ablutions it was possible to sip water.
CK: Was he officially charged with something?
M .: He was tortured for being homosexual, and that was the accusation. No criminal or administrative case was opened against him, just tortured.
There were cases when cases were brought against several homosexuals. This was done for blackmail: they say, we will put you, kill you as a terrorist. But, as far as I know, not a single case reached the court. Mostly [these people] had tolerant families, parents did not pay attention to their son’s sexual orientation. When the security forces understood that it was useless to tell the family, they frightened them with criminal prosecution, but [as a result of these people] were killed.
CK: Your friend was alone in that basement?
M .: Using his phone, the security officers came out for three more people, one of whom, by the way, was not gay. What happened to them, I do not know. After my friend left, we quickly left.
CK: You said that some detainees were killed. Who are these people?
M: I know about three homosexuals killed: two young people and one older person. The latter was tortured and beaten, as a result of which he died, his body was simply given to relatives. The other guy is a member of a wealthy family in Chechnya who is in (power). He was beaten half to death. Having found out who he was, the security forces brought him to his relatives and gave him away, said: “Understand yourself.” The family killed him himself. The third homosexual was beaten, taken out to his home, where he died – the ambulance was unable to help.
CK: It is known that many detainees had to pay the security forces for silence and release, some spoke of systematic extortion. Do you know what amounts gays were forced to pay?
M: Different. In May 2017, it was about 200-300 thousand rubles, sometimes reaching 500 thousand. It depended on the level of human well-being – what position he held, where he worked. You can’t take off your naked pants. If it came to the family, then they already looked at her condition.
CK: Why did they let you go?
M .: I will not answer this question.
CK: Have they applied to government agencies? For example, to the prosecutor?
M .: Are you crazy? [laughs]
CK: Were there difficulties in terms of moving? Did they take any things? Or abandoned everything?
M .: We only had a hand luggage – in a sports bag, where it was most necessary: pants, t-shirt, toothbrush. We didn’t go on a tour, we fled the country.
“I WANT TO GO BACK TO MY HOUSE”
CK: Now you are in one of the European countries. Did you manage to get political asylum?
M .: I was lucky: two weeks after my arrival, I was received by the Consul General of the country where I was, and immediately [documents for political asylum] were ready.
CK: What’s up with your friend?
M .: We flew to different countries, but neighboring ones. Is he Ok.
CK: Are you afraid that someone will chase you abroad?
M: Of course. Persecution is no longer carried out by Chechen security officials, but by members of the Chechen diasporas. If they find out that you are gay, then they can beat and kill. The most famous case of persecution is the story of Movsar Eskerkhanov.
CK: If the situation changes for the better, would you like to return to Russia and specifically to Chechnya?
M: Of course, I want to return to my house. I’m here alone, I have no one. It is very difficult to break away from family, friends, to leave for a lifetime. One thought that I will not see my relatives is already killing. I keep in touch only with the female part of the family. Women cover me – they say that I work in Europe.
CK: The reaction of the authorities and the security bloc in Chechnya to homosexuals is known. You say that society is extremely negative, but women are tolerant of your sexual orientation …
M .: [Women] humbled. They are more merciful than men, and for them I, first of all, are son and brother, and not gay. They would not want to lose a relative. Sexual orientation is not a reason to kill.
CK: How do you explain the fact that in Chechnya, some of the stars of show business who have the reputation of homosexuals are welcome?
M: They are not Chechens. First, they are brought in as a media person. Secondly, in this way they are denying that they are pursuing and killing gays.
CK: What actions would you recommend homosexuals to avoid in Chechnya?
M .: The advice is the same: to leave Chechnya.
CK: How to deal with persecution by relatives and members of the diaspora?
M .: Here, in Europe, you can “not shine”, do not give everyone your name. We go where secular society.
We’re inviting you to make a difference today by donating to the Chechyna Appeal.
Every dollar, euro and pound you give will help evacuate LGBTI people in the most danger. And to pressure the Chechen authorities to stop this persecution.