The brutal persecution of gay men in the Chechen Republic has recently made headlines around the world. According to Novaya Gazeta, Russia’s most influential independent newspaper, over a hundred men suspected of being gay have been abducted, tortured, and detained by local authorities. At least three men have been killed. Some international media outlets have even reported the existence of “concentration camps” for gay men that the Chechen government has allegedly opened.
Before news of the repression broke, many Western media stories about Chechen Republic Head Ramzan Kadyrov portrayed him as a clownish dictator obsessed with his Instagram account. In light of the latest news, though, he is now more correctly viewed as a brutal, repressive ruler.
For Chechnya’s suffering citizens, the gay issue is but the latest iteration of the perpetual violence that the North Caucasus republic has experienced under Kadyrov’s dictatorship. Deprived of access to Russian constitutional protections, civilians have suffered all possible abuses at the hands of the authorities for the past two decades. Illegal abductions, killings, and demands for bribes are all routine.
Under the unconditional patronage of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kadyrov rules his republic as a totalitarian, and has done so since taking power in May 2004, after his father, then President Akhmad Kadyrov, was assassinated. Years before the campaign against gays, his commandos launched a similar crackdown on “badly behaved” women. The bodies of 13 women were found in different parts of the republic. The women had been tortured and then shot in the head. These murders were the subject of human rights activist and journalist Natalia Estemirova’s last investigation before she herself was abducted and killed in August 2009. The killers were never found, despite evidence of Kadyrov’s commandos’ involvement.
Chechnya has long seemed on the verge of a crackdown on gay men. Chechen society is a highly conservative and patriarchal one that has traditionally been hostile to homosexuality. Yet most gay men have been able to live hidden lives without
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