Although the networks have given ample airtime to “marriage equality,” “anti-gay” religious freedom bills and transgender bathroom policies, they’re hardly covering the truly grave oppression of the LGBT community in Chechnya. In this predominantly Muslim Russian province, gay and bisexual men are living on borrowed time. According to one report, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has vowed to eliminate them by the end of May.
It has been one month since Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta first published a report on the government’s violence toward the Chechen LGBT community. Yet, stunningly, the evening network shows have given the human rights violations little coverage, devoting only one NBC Nightly News segment to the oppression.
When the news that government security forces were rounding up and torturing gay men broke on April 1, Kadyrov spokesman Alvi Karimov denied the allegations, calling it an April Fool’s Day prank. “If there were such people in Chechnya, law enforcement agencies wouldn’t need to have anything to do with them because their relatives would send them somewhere from which there is no returning,” he ominously stated.
But according to British Minister of State Sir Alan Duncan, sources say that Kadyrov wants sexual minorities “eliminated” by May 26. That date, just over three weeks away, is the start of Ramadan, Islam’s most holy month.
“This society is highly homophobic,” International Crisis Group project director Ekaterina Sokiryanskaya told The New York Times. “Homosexuality is condemned. It is believed Islam considers it a great sin.”
Whether Kadyrov, a devout Muslim, truly intends to abolish the gay community in the coming weeks remains to be seen. However, one thing is clear – the repeated attempts to deny violence have only sparked further examination.
Novaya Gazeta’s shocking report has fixed a spotlight on Chechnya, at great risk to the journalists there, who are now under threat. Activists are also endangered. When demonstrators rallied at a May Day parade to protest the violence, 20 of their members were arrested by police.
Although the newspaper’s exposé did not instigate an official Russian investigation; it certainly sparked international outcry. As journalists dug for the truth, interviewing survivors and escapees, the truly horrific nature of the atrocities – electrocutions, beatings, forced confinement, starvation and even murder – came to light.
Honor killings are one of the most disturbing facets of the epidemic. Legal in many fundamentalist Muslim cultures, they have been utilized by Chechen leaders to force families of gay men to make an impossible decision.
“They tell the parents to kill their child,” one survivor who asked to remain anonymous recounted to LGBTQ Nation. “They say, ‘Either you do it or we will.’ They call it, ‘Cleaning your honor with blood.’”
Despite censure from the U.S. and other foreign governments, Vladimir Putin has failed to condemn the Chechen “anti-gay pogrom,” as New York Times Moscow Correspondent Andrew Kramer aptly termed it.
"We've heard some very negative reports about how homosexuals are treated in Chechnya,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on May 2, according to CNN. “I asked Mr. Putin to use his influence to ensure the rights of such minorities.”
But Putin’s own spokesman, Dmitri Peskov has denied the evidence of targeted arrests of sexual minorities.
At this point, Russia’s string of human rights abuses is long. Last month, the Kremlin banned Jehovah’s Witnesses from the country, seizing and liquidating church buildings and supplies. Although the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom condemned the move, the network evening news shows remained mum.
The Kremlin’s stance on these issues might be expected, but the nets’ yawning is inexcusable.