Amin Dzhabrailov was arrested, beaten, and tortured before the Rainbow Railroad helped him come to Canada.
While being beaten and tortured with electric shocks, Amin Dzhabrailov tried to think about how he would run away.
The 27-year-old is from Chechnya and survived an anti-gay purge that saw men detained and tortured in the Russian republic in 2017.
“They were using [their] feet, plastic pipes, long pipes,” to beat prisoners, Dzhabrailov said during an interview in Winnipeg.
“And after they started using electric shock,” he said.
“No one wanted to touch you with the hands just because you’re gay, and it’s disgusting.”
He was in Winnipeg last Thursday night to speak at a fundraiser that brought in $137,000 for Rainbow Railroad, a non-profit that helps LGBT people escape from countries where their lives are in danger because of who they are.
Rainbow Railroad executive director Kimahli Powell said Winnipeg has been a special part of the non-profit’s history. When the annual fundraising event was started in 2014 in the city, the organization had just made the transition from a small collective to a charity.
“This fundraiser was the big boost that really started the organization,” he said. “We would not be where we are today without the community in Winnipeg and their generosity.”
Dzhabrailov, who once only would speak to journalists if his face was concealed, is sharing his story to drum up support for Rainbow Railroad, as it continues its work to save LGBT people from persecution in countries around the world.
He also wants to inspire others from his community who are still in Chechnya, where human rights watchdogs say anti-gay purges have continued.
He says he was kidnapped by Russian soldiers from a hair salon where he was working in March 2017.
“It was awful,” he recalls. “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 building that became a torture facility where he would spend the next two weeks.
‘The edge of dying’ “I was tortured almost each day and night,” he said.
There was mental abuse, in addition to the beatings and continued electrical shocks used on him and the roughly 17 other gay men there. Soldiers pressed the men for names of other gay people.
“It’s like [being] on the edge of dying, especially when they’re using that machine which is making electricity,” which would be fixed to his ears, fingers or toes, he said.
“I was screaming to stop this.”
Every day, as soldiers beat Dzhabrailov and made him work cleaning floors and washing their cars, he thought about suicide, but there was no chance to escape.
He remembers the taunts and laughs from soldiers, and one instance where a soldier shoved his gun into Dzhabrailov’s mouth.
The nightmare ended when his captors brought him and others to another location, where his family was waiting.
There, he says, soldiers shamed him for being gay and asked family members why they didn’t take care of their relatives. They talked about killing the men, while their parents kept their eyes down, afraid to speak.
Dzhabrailov’s brothers took him home but he knew he couldn’t stay in Chechnya for long. He asked Viskhan Arsanov, a long-time friend and now his partner, for help.
The 28-year-old was living in Moscow at the time. While he wasn’t tortured, he was threatened for being gay by a man he believes may have been a police officer or government solider.
Arsanov got Dzhabrailov, who had no money, to St. Petersburg.
Dzhabrailov then got in touch with an LGBT network that connected him with Rainbow Railroad, which got both men out of the country safely.
“I remember when he’s leaving [for] Canada and he has tickets, everything … I say, ‘Jesus, I can’t believe it. It’s real. Everything is real,'” Arsanov recalls.
The men, who now call Toronto home, are grateful for Rainbow Railroad and are enjoying every moment of freedom in Canada.
“We’re just two young men who are living our best lives,” Dzhabrailov said.
“I don’t get tired telling this, and I won’t, ’cause I’m really living this.”
The large parade of Antwerp Pride, the annual gay festival in Antwerp, attracted at least 90,000 participants this year. The police confirm this to VTM NEWS. Last year around 75,000 people attended. The Antwerp Pride Parade attracts tens of thousands of spectators every year. This year the participants gathered on Sint-Jansplein in Antwerp-North, to step to the Paardenmarkt and then to the quays via the Brouwersvliet. The end point is the Gedempte Zuiderdokken, where the Love United Festival erupt.
“Antwerp may not have the largest Pride Parade in the world, but now it is one of the bravest because of where it starts,” says ships Meeuws. “I am very fond of Sint-Jansplein, it is my own neighborhood, but let’s face it: it is a difficult neighborhood where not everyone is waiting for the Pride and where not all people are involved with the rights that were fought for and that are universal. This is based on an unlikely pedagogical power, this is a unique opportunity to explain the neighborhood that the Pride really stands for.”
Activist from Mordovia Karolina Kanaeva, speaking in defense of Chechen gays, left Russia after threats from opponents of LGBT people. They followed Kanaev’s appeal to Ramzan Kadyrov and a comment on behalf of Chechen Minister Dzhambulat Umarov.
Karolina Kanaeva lived in Saransk and actively supports the rights of LGBT people, participated in a flashmob against the persecution of gays in Chechnya “saveLGBTinRussia”. She published an analysis of the report on mass violations of human rights in Chechnya and the inaction of the federal authorities in her public newspaper VKontakte, the girl herself told the ” Caucasian Knot ” correspondent .
The activist noted that she had never been to Chechnya, but a few months ago she turned over Instagram to the head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov. Kanaeva asked him a few questions about the persecution of LGBT people in Chechnya. After some time, an Instagram user with the nickname djambox responded to Kanayeva’s comment. This channel is conducted on behalf of the Minister of Chechnya on the national policy of Dzhambulat Umarov. Djambox said that “in normal families of Muslims and Caucasians this is [the presence of homosexuals] nonsense.”
Some time later, the comment was deleted, but Karolina Kanaeva managed to make a screenshot, it is available to the “Caucasian Knot”. The activist suggested that the comment could be removed by the administration of the social network, and not by Umarov himself. According to Kanaeva, the response of the Chechen minister first surprised her and then frightened — soon after the comment on behalf of Umarov, threats from other users of social networks began to come to her. Under one of the posts of the girl “VKontakte” comments appeared: “I hope she will be slaughtered in the doorway”, “Better to be burned”, “Go kill yourself.”
Chechnya’s minister for national policy, Dzhambulat Umarov, claims that he did not have any contact with Karolina Kanaeva on Instagram Kanaeva.
“I do not know this woman, I have no idea who she is, I didn’t write anything like that to anyone on Instagram. This is complete nonsense, ”the minister quoted the Minister’s edition on July 27 as the Caucasus. Realities.
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.