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Embassies of three European countries expedite visa issuing in light of persecution The persecution of Chechen gay men and attacks on Novaya Gazeta: reactions in Russia and the West

09:56, 18 april 2017

Protesters outside Russian Embassy in London, following reports of the torture and murder of gay men in Chechnya. 12.04.2017

Photo: Thomas Hornall / PA Wire / PA Images / Scanpix / LETA

Several countries have started fundraising to help gay men being persecuted in Chechnya. Novaya Gazeta journalists who were first to report the persecution and murder of gays in the republic have also appealed for protection from threats. Meduza relates who is ready to help and how.

On April 1, Novaya Gazeta published an article on the mass detention of Chechen residents suspected of homosexuality. According to the publication, more than 100 were detained and three people were killed. Some of them were kept or remain in secret prisons, where authorities try to coerce them into denouncing other gays by means of torture. Chechen authorities have called the newspaper’s allegations a lie.

On April 13, Novaya Gazeta issued a statement claiming that its journalists were being threatened and that the editorial board had “serious fears [about] the safety” of its employees. The publication urged “Russian authorities to do everything possible to stop actions aimed at inciting hatred and enmity towards journalists fulfilling their professional duties,” referring specifically to threats voiced by Islamic theologians at a meeting in the central mosque of Grozny, Chechnya on April 3.

According to the newspaper’s editorial board, the meeting was convened in connection with the publication of Novaya Gazeta’s article on the persecution of gay men in the Chechen Republic. According to the publication Grozny-Inform, 15,000 people attended. Meeting participants adopted a resolution in which they declared that the Novaya Gazeta journalists had “insulted the centuries-old foundations of Chechen society and the dignity of Chechen men,” as well as their faith. “We promise that the true instigators will be subjected to retribution, wherever and whoever they are, without statute of limitations,” the resolution read.

Several statements were made in support of the Novaya Gazeta journalists. A spokesman for Russian President Dmitry Peskov said that the Kremlin opposed any “actions that could pose threats to the security and life of journalists.” Russia’s presidential Human Rights Council was ordered to institute criminal proceedings in light of the threats, but failed to agree on a corresponding resolution. “Some wanted to make the draft more radical, some thought that there was no reason for the council to have been called at all,” said council head Mikhail Fedotov.

Ekho Moskvy editor-in-chief Alexei Venediktov addressed the authorities: “While your [employees] are chasing teenagers in sneakers, you have a blatant, uncontrollable, enemy-ridden force that dares to threaten the citizens of Russia.”

In an open letter to Chechnya’s Minister for National Policy, External Relations, Press and Information Dzhambulat Umarov, musician Yury Shevchuk asked that “lawlessness not be dragged into the 21st century” and that the conflict be resolved in court.

Members of the Free Word Association published a letter of solidarity with Novaya Gazeta. Amongst the signatories were writers Alexander Arkhangelsky, Vladimir Voinovich, Svetlana Alexievich, Lyudmila Ulitskaya, and Grigory Chkhartishvili (Boris Akunin), as well as journalist Sergei Parkhomenko, human rights activist Zoya Svetova, and others. “We remember well how such threats [against journalists] end. The unresolved murders of Anna Politkovskaya and Natalia Estemirova [and] the inability of investigators and the court to carry out a full-fledged trial in the case of the murder of Boris Nemtsov make us watch the development of this situation with special concern.”

Western countries have stood up for Chechen gay men. On April 15, Deutsche Welle reported that Finland, Sweden, and Germany they are fundraising to help the people of Chechnya, who are being persecuted because of their sexual orientation. According to the publication, almost 170,000 euros (approximately $181,138.40) have been raised for the evacuation of homosexual men from Chechnya in Sweden alone. Head of the Russian LGBT Network Tatiana Vinnichenko told Meduza that the embassies of three European countries are ready to expedite the process of issuing visas for Chechen gays. Fearing that refugees could be threatened by representatives of local Chechen diasporas, Vynnychenko did not specify which specific countries have made this decision.

Vynnychenko also said that two meetings of Chechen refugees were arranged with the representatives of Western embassies in Moscow. “Thanks to this, negotiations led to an accelerated procedure for issuing visas. After all, people from this region [have trouble] obtaining visas to Schengen countries,” the activist said. In addition to issuing visas, activists help refugees who do not have passports: “Some [people who help file paperwork for passports] help us out. Generally speaking, people are ready to help quite a bit.”

According to Russian LGBT Network, more than one hundred people are currently detained in Chechnya. “People who have come to us tell us that there were 18-20 people in a cell. [The speak of] lists that the local police work with – i.e. that this is not a random [persecution], but a planned campaign,” Vinnichenko said. The activist does not know when exactly this campaign began and that provoked it. According to her, arrests started as early as December 2016.

On April 16, Meduza published two articles written by Novaya Gazeta journalist Yelena Kostyuchenko: the monologue of a gay escaped from Chechnya and comments on the evacuation of gays from Chechnya from the staff of the Russian LGBT Network.