Two young men have come forward to open up about their experiences in Chechnya, where both were detained and beaten for being gay.
Unwilling to give their real names for obvious reasons, they’re calling themselves Gregory and Arnie.
“I was kidnapped and kept for 12 days in a basement,” Gregory, 21, tells NPR. “I was beaten and interrogated.”
Stories like Gregory’s began circulating this April after Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported that over 100 had been rounded up and detained under suspicion of “untraditional sexual orientation.” Three men had already been killed in the antigay purge, the paper reported.
Here’s how Gregory describes his ordeal:
“When I was detained, the police went through my phone and social media,” Gregory says. “They forced me to contact someone I was dating.”
And so he did, setting up a date. Later, authorities drove him to the location.
“They put a black plastic bag over my head and put a gun to my head. They made me call the other guy and tell him to come the car. Then they kidnapped him as well.
They told me I wasn’t a human being and deserved to be murdered.”
Gregory was eventually released for reasons he doesn’t know. (He suspects it’s because he’s not originally from Chechnya but another part of Russia.) Authorities handed him a bus ticket and told him to leave Chechnya immediately.
The St. Petersburg-based Russian LGBT Network operates a 24-hour hotline and figured out how to get Gregory to Moscow, where he wound up in a safe house operated by the Moscow Community Center, an organization serving the LGBTQ community that’s already provided shelter to over 30 men from Chechnya.
Most of the men who managed to escape will never be able to return, as in the case of 18-year-old Arnie.
“I don’t remember anything,” Arnie says of his kidnapping and torture, which left him in a coma for two weeks. . “I can only tell you what my cousin told me.”
According to his cousin, Arnie went missing and then was suddenly deposited on his family’s doorstep. He was unconscious and inside a burlap sack.
“Some guys came to the house and told my relatives, ‘This is your son, he is a homosexual,'” Arnie tells NPR.
His uncle grabbed Arnie by the throat and was ready to throttle him to death, but allegedly stopped since he was already on the verge of dying.
When he woke up weeks later in the hospital, his family came into the room and said they were in the process of disowning him. He suspects it’s because of their Muslim faith.
He thinks he’s safe for now since it’s the holy month of Ramadan, but fears his uncle will hunt him down and kill him once it’s over.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has allegedly called for an investigation into the claims of gay men’s torture and murder in Chechnya, while Human Rights Watch is conducting its own investigation into the “antigay purge.”
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov continues to deny any sort of antigay campaign exists, telling Interfax news agency:
“In Chechen society, there is no such thing as nontraditional orientation. Our people have for millennia lived by different rules prescribed by God Almighty and dictated by the moral and ethical norms of inter-personal relations.”
Human Rights Watch also reports families that families are being “indirectly encourag[ed]” to kill gay members, in order to restore honor.