Victims of Chechnya’s gay purge have told how they were stripped naked, beaten with pipes and electrocuted, as Human Rights Watch (HRW) said several of those targeted by police were still being held in detention.
Shocking testimony detailing abuse by officials in the Russian federal republic follows claims first made in April that men were being tortured and killed because of their sexuality.
The purge is understood to have seen more than 100 men suspected of being gay abducted, tortured and in some cases killed.
HRW has spoken to six former detainees who said Chechen officials, including two high-level figures, visited unofficial prisons and humiliated inmates suspected of being gay.
Their captors exposed them to their families as gay and encouraged their relatives to carry out “honour killings”, it is claimed.
“They turn the knob, electric current hits you, and you start shaking,” one former detainee, who remained anonymous, said. “And they keep turning the hellish machine, and the pain is just insane, you scream, and scream, and you no longer know who you are.
“Finally, you faint, it all goes dark, but when you come to your senses, they start all over again.
“And once they’re done with you and you get your bearings, you hear other inmates screaming, and the sounds of torture are just there all day, and at some point, you start losing your mind.”
The HRW report is the most comprehensive account yet of the gay purge. It said no new abductions have taken place in recent weeks, but several men remain in detention.
One victim, speaking to the rights group, said: “The [police officials] spat in our faces, they called us disgusting, offensive names, they goaded us. When they finally released me, I was close to hanging myself.”
Another told how he was verbally abused and humiliated in front of his own family.
He said fathers, brothers, uncles of the inmates were lined up and, one by one, each detainee was ordered to admit they were gay.
“Then, they chastise your family members, tell them they brought shame on the family by rearing a pervert, that it’s a huge stain on family honour, a stain that needs to be cleansed – they wouldn’t say it directly but we all knew what it meant.”
The Russian programme director of HRW, Tanya Lokshina, said: “Russia’s federal investigation into the abductions, torture, and humiliation of people presumed to be gay in Chechnya should be thorough and investigators should bring perpetrators to account.”
Russian officials are now investigating claims of a state-sponsored purge backed by Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechen leader, whose spokesperson has called reports of abuse “absolute lies and disinformation”.
The release of HRW’s investigation coincides with the start of Ramadan, a date which Sir Alan Duncan, British foreign minister, said had been touted by the Chechen leader as a deadline for gay men to be “eliminated”.
A report this week by Novaya Gazeta, the Russian newspaper that first broke the story, put the total number of murdered gay men in Chechnya at 26.
LGBT activists have helped about 40 more who fled the republic to other Russian regions, with many seeking asylum abroad.
Lithuania’s foreign minister said the Baltic nation had given refuge to two gay men from Chechnya.
Recent weeks have also witnessed large-scale detentions of gay men in Nigeria and Bangladesh.
In April, 53 people in northern Nigeria were arrested and charged with conspiring to celebrate a gay wedding.
Amnesty International said Bangladesh’s elite security forces arrested 27 young men who had gathered an event attended by members of the LGBT community.
The group, who were detained on 19 May, have been charged with drug possession.
Amnesty said they were at risk of torture and other ill-treatment.
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