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Russian LGBT Network Steps Up Efforts To Get Gay Men Out Of Chechnya


More than a hundred gay men have been rounded up by the police in the Russian republic of Chechnya. That's according to reporting by the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta. So far, the Kremlin has turned a blind eye to this, though German Chancellor Angela Merkel last week urged Vladimir Putin to intervene.

There is an NGO that has been working to get gay men who've been targeted out of Chechnya. It is the Russian LGBT Network. And I spoke with that group's communications manager via Skype. We should say we are not using her name because of the sensitive and dangerous nature of her work. She started by telling me how these men have been treated.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Well, they're telling us that they are beaten. Sometimes some people are beaten to death. And also people are saying that they're tortured with electric current, they are not fed properly and they don't have any water.

GREENE: You have confirmed that some people have died during these - this torturing.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Yes, that's what was reported to us.

GREENE: And the reporting - this is coming from men who have contacted your network and told you about other men who they say have been killed.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Well, yes. Like, in the very beginning when we just got the first information about that, we started the hotline specifically for this purpose. And we publicly stated that, like, any person, if this person feels threatened or if this person were imprisoned or something happened to this person in Chechnya, they should contact us and we are providing help.

GREENE: And how have these men gotten in touch with you and connected with your organization?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Well, they're writing in emails. And in the very beginning, the first people who contacted us, they were terribly scared. And they wanted to ensure, like, if we can be trusted, if we are going to kill them or help them. But basically then we started the evacuation process, and by now we evacuated around 40 people.

GREENE: And have you relocated them to other regions of Russia or have you gotten them outside the country?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Well, the first thing for us to do is, of course, to evacuate them from Chechnya, like, to other parts of Russia. But we are also working to evacuate them, to relocate them to - out of Russia because for most of them it's just deadly dangerous to stay in Russia because some of them are already hunted by their relatives outside of Chechnya.

GREENE: They're being hunted by their relatives, did you say?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Yes, they are being hunted because, like, homosexuality in Chechnya is considered to be a stain on the whole family. And it is believed that the only way to kind of wash away this stain is to kill this person.

GREENE: That sounds terrible. Is the Russian government supporting your organization? Or what would you like to see from the Russian government?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Well, the Russian government obviously doesn't provide any support to any LGBT organizations. We try to report to them, but they usually ignore us. And what we want from them right now is to have appropriate investigation of this situation.

GREENE: Are you optimistic that that investigation will happen?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: You know, it's a very complicated question. For the first weeks when this information became public they didn't do anything. But at the same time, there was a lot of attention from the international communities. There was a lot of pressure. And the Russian authorities were asked a lot about what's going on in Chechnya. And at some point, they weren't able to be silent anymore and they started to do something. It's actually a horrible thing for them, too, for their reputation - like, how do they look like, like monsters?

GREENE: You're talking about the Russian government.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Yeah, because they don't do anything about the citizens of Russia being killed, tortured and kidnapped.

GREENE: We were speaking to the communications manager for the Russian LGBT Network. And we should just remind our listeners we are withholding her name because of the sensitive work that her organization is doing. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.