The Gay Men Who Fled Chechnya’s Purge

What occurred in Chechnya in late winter went beyond beatings and blackmail. Ali appears to have been one of the first men to be swept up in the recent wave of detentions of gay men, carried out on orders from the top of the Chechen government. Those who were brought in and later released issued dire warnings on Russian social networks, in closed groups for Chechen gay men. On April 1st, Novaya Gazeta, a Moscow newspaper with a long and distinguished track record of reporting from Chechnya, published an article claiming that it had been able to confirm more than a hundred arrests and three deaths resulting from this sweep. A report by Human Rights Watch, issued in late May, suggests that the raids began in the last week of February, when a young man was arrested for using drugs. The police found photographs of men on his phone, along with social-media posts and messages that led them to identify him as gay. Under torture, the man reportedly gave up the names of others, and the police began arresting them. Some media reports have claimed that Chechnya has confined gay men to “concentration camps,” but survivors’ testimony points to the existence of half a dozen detention facilities, where men are held for as long as a couple of weeks. In many cases, they are tortured.