LGBT network against repression: human rights activist threatened from Chechnya

The head of the Russian LGBT network Igor Kochetkov filed this week a letter to the Investigation Committee with a request to verify the information coming from Chechnya, new cases of abduction, detention and torture of people suspected of homosexual orientation. This week in the Internet appeared the video message of two residents of the Chechen Republic Ali Bashanova to Igor Kochetkov, who he perceived as threats in his address.

Both videos appeared on YouTube. First, the site administration has removed first, instead of the second video, but it was soon removed. However, Igor Kochetkov preserved both of the video — he gave them at the disposal of law enforcement agencies.

RFI: Igor, you are early to the video message, know this man?

Igor Kochetkov: No, of course. I do think that he owes me because I made him famous all over the world. No one knew him. I saw him for the first time in this first video. As I was told it was some kind of Chechen public figure, which whether Noah’s ark found, whether looking for him — I do not quite understand. I honestly didn’t even try to learn something about it, to gather information. Why? I have, first, a lot of other things, and I don’t think that there is some kind of fundamental importance to who he is. Matters the fact of threats are a common threat, who receive many human rights activists and public figures who are somehow engaged in the topic of Chechnya or trying to criticize the Chechen authorities for what they do. They receive similar threats, I think from different people.

Do you think it may have some relevance to cases of abduction and torture, to which your organization is trying to attract attention?

I can’t say that it has something to do with the persecution of LGBT people in Chechnya. Unlikely to open source this information, you can find or check.

In the video Ali Bashanova, in addition to abuse, there are words that can be interpreted as threats. In particular, the phrase “don’t get off this train — if released, it will be your last stop”. How seriously did you take this warning?

I really perceive this phrase as a direct threat. Named very specific details, like about how I move around the city. Yes, I use the train. So I have reason to believe that these threats can be real. The first reaction that I had, that surprise. Why so late? I understand what I do. And this topic I have already two years engaged in very tightly, the two years make public statements about the persecution of people in Chechnya, about torture, about killing. We appeal to international organizations, and I do it openly. During these two years such a public threat, through an appeal to YouTube, comes for the first time. Indirect threats had been before, video — only now. Why two years didn’t happen?

Have you contacted law enforcement about this video?

Yes. Yesterday, I sent one application to the Investigative Committee to check these applications on the signs of crimes under articles 280 and 282 of the criminal code — inciting hatred of a large social group. And the second complaint I have submitted to the Investigative Department of the Ministry of interior according to article 119 “Threat to life and health.”

This week it became known that you have applied in the UK about the outbreak in Chechnya, the second “wave” of persecution of people suspected of homosexuality. What you have stated it?

First, in this statement we have repeated all that was said before publicly. What, according to our data, according to the messages that we receive, detained dozens of people suspected of homosexuality. They were tortured, illegally detained. They are threatened with initiation of criminal cases, of course, falsified, forced to sign blank forms. We called the name of one person who was arrested, at the same time we pointed out that other former detainees, who come to us, don’t want to disclose their personal information because they fear for their lives and safety and for the lives and safety of his family. We called the name of one of the dead. The name of the second we do not know.

As far as I know, in your appeal featured a Bekhan Yusupov. Who is it?

As regards Yusupov, he arrived on New year’s eve to Chechnya from France. We know this from his friends, who approached us with a request for assistance when he learned that he was detained. He lived for several years in France and has political asylum there.

In what capacity?

I can’t here the details to describe it, I the details of this case don’t know. I want to emphasize that when people are detained on suspicion of homosexuality, this does not always mean that they are really gays, lesbians and so on.

But still, why his friends turned it into the Russian LGBT network?

Now he was arrested on suspicion of homosexuality, we know about this from people who contacted us.

►► Life under the gun: interview with a witness of the torture of gays in Chechnya

What about the number of detainees and kidnapped in Chechnya, is it this time?

We can give you the figures for those complaints that we have. This brand is not representative, because we don’t know how many people actually detained, we are talking about tens. To us in January 2019, the asked 23 people. It’s our informants, people who are told about what is happening in Chechnya, among them were detained. We know that only one Zavodskoy ROVD of Grozny was detained on suspicion of homosexuality at least 14 people is only one police station in Grozny. We know that people were detained in Argun, there are people in other ROVD in Grozny. Directly from those who were detained and released, we were approached by three. We asked eight people who claim that they have lost their friends and acquaintances who have contacts of these eight people. That is, these eight people fear that they can give and also to hold.

I understand correctly, they are not yet ready to apply to law enforcement?

Yes, until they are ready to do that. It was the same in 2017. Once again the context: the detainees selected documents threatened that if they try to leave Chechnya if they take any action against them will be prosecuted for any criminal code.

What about the reaction of the security forces for information about the first “wave” of persecution of LGBT people in the Chechen Republic?

There were a few checks. The first publication in “Novaya Gazeta”, in the case of the 27-mi is dead and gay. Those who were considered gay, when he was detained. The second test — in the case of Maxim Lapunov, who was detained and tortured, and then released. But he was released only because he is not a Chechen. His relatives began looking for him, he filed, an inspection is carried out. In a criminal case is denied, as denied a motion to dismiss under the first test, the case 27. Now case 27, and case of Maxim Lapunov go to the ECHR, we in both cases are involved. In addition, we filed a statement in connection with the disappearance of Zelimkhan Bakaev.

This young singer is a Chechen who disappeared…

Yes, Yes, absolutely. We’ve gone in the early summer of 2017. At the end of 2018, we received from the Investigative Committee another paper saying that the case was transferred to the Investigative Department for the Chechen Republic. And so in all cases. This is absurd, because the crimes which we commit, committed allegedly by members of the Chechen police. And here is the same Chechen police actually verifies the statements for his own crimes. It is on this circumstance drew attention in particular to the OSCE Rapporteur in the framework of the Moscow mechanism of the human dimension. At the end of December were made public a report on human rights violations in Chechnya. This report draws attention to the fact that such a course of investigation of criminal cases is invalid. These cases must investigate not in Chechnya but in Moscow.

With your new application will be the same?

I have no objective reason to assume that it would be otherwise. But I always have hope that maybe something will change.

Why do you think the second “wave” appeared just now? What provoked her?

Such a wave could occur at any time because the order of Ramzan Kadyrov, his public orders to clear the blood of Chechen from the “perverts” from the “these people”, he said, has not been canceled. And we received information about a single detention all the time. But at some point their hands were the people or man with me, unfortunately, turned out to be a mobile phone with a large number of contacts. And they began detention for these contacts, of course, the detainees beat new contacts, and get a wave.

Are you sure of this or is it just an assumption?

This assumption, of course. I know that it had detained a man with a large number of contacts — what they say our sources. This is very similar to what happened in February 2017, there is also this began. On charges of drug use, arrested the man, took away his mobile telephone, there have been many contacts were materials that indicated his sexual orientation, and this began the first wave. Here a similar situation, so I assume it’s the same story.

I understand that some of the detainees complained of extortion. In your opinion, what motivated the people involved in the kidnappings? Orders from above or personal greed?

One another does not exclude. On the implementation of the political objectives that they set, it is possible to earn — why not? That is, we actually met in 2017, the year with situations where detained people in the campaign, but still managed to extort money from them, liberated people for money.

Igor, in your opinion, why in this situation we do not see a clear position of the Kremlin? The Federal government is not able to stop antigeyskuyu campaign in Chechnya? Or is it indifferent to this situation, since the reaction of the world community on her very lethargic? Or, maybe, in Moscow for some reason even gave a nod to the persecution of LGBT people?

Over the last 10 years, not investigated, no matter the crimes of the police in Chechnya. That is, the case against the LGBT is no exception. So I would say that here is the place the impotence of the Kremlin as-that to affect what is happening in Chechnya. The impotence or unwillingness — I do not know what is more. Probably here it is necessary to have a large number of facts which we now possess can not.

What, in your opinion, could be taken by the international community, in order to change the position of the Federal government in this situation?

First, I would have still disagreed with you that the efforts of the international community so sluggish and have no effect. It is not so. I will remind you at least 2017, when the astonished viewers of the First channel, the program “Time”, suddenly saw a report from the office of Putin, which Kadyrov told Putin that in Chechnya is not gay. So Central television anything about what is happening not telling, it was not clear what is it that Putin and Kadyrov talking about gays. And it happened just after the reaction of the international community. Then the same on the Central TV channels showed Putin talking to Moskalkova on the same subject.

But, essentially nothing has changed: the prosecution, in your own words, is not terminated, the investigation of denied. That is the President’s reaction was rather attributive character…

Not really. Because of these reactions, we believe, saved hundreds of lives. Mass detentions after that, then stopped. Indeed, people began to let go, they began to contact us, we have started to remove them. Of course, the possibility of international legal mechanisms, which are recognized by Russia, is very limited. And these mechanisms are often symbolic, it’s true. But if they are wisely used, it is possible to achieve at least the beginning of the international investigation. There is a third point. Regardless of whether the perpetrators are brought to justice or not, the victims of these crimes need to help right now. And the fact that the same European countries, Canada is prepared to accept refugees, people affected in this situation, it is also very important.

In the past year in connection with reports about the persecution of LGBT people in Chechnya, the OSCE has launched against Russia the Moscow mechanism. But Russia would not let its territory to the expert, which was to investigate…

Let’s first about what the Moscow mechanism. The OSCE is the human dimension that is dual to the Vienna mechanism Moscow. At the 1991 OSCE meeting in Moscow it was agreed that in the event of serious violations of human rights in one of the countries of the OSCE to other countries, at least ten, can initiate an investigation. Theoretically, according to the Moscow agreements, the government is suspected of violations of the rights of man, is itself able to initiate a mechanism to invite an expert. And state have pledged to cooperate with the expert, if such a mechanism is initiated.

Russia in this case he acted very strange and very ill-advised, in my opinion. Because the Russian authorities had every opportunity to in this investigation the OSCE to participate. First, even in the summer, he was excited by the so-called Vienna mechanism, when 15 States demanded that Russia, as investigated those crimes in Chechnya, which human rights activists say. Russia then ignored this appeal. And since this appeal was ignored, the fall was launched by the Moscow mechanism.

According to the rules of the country that initiated it, the 16 States nominate its expert. Russia had the opportunity to nominate an expert from the expert list, which is in the OSCE. They are from this refused. They — I mean the Russian diplomats behaved very strangely. That is, when they tried to communicate with representatives of 16 States initiated the Moscow mechanism, Russia demanded from them evidence of the crimes that happen in Chechnya. It’s very strange, because the essence of the Moscow mechanism is that the country that is accused of human rights violations, require evidence. It must submit evidence that human rights are not violated. That is, Russia took the situation absolutely inadequately, unfortunately.

And expert, Austrian lawyer Wolfgang Benedek, on the territory of Russia did not get…

Yes, they refused to let Benedek in Russia, but it’s not much, frankly, prevented his work…

And what was the formal reason not to allow it?

I have not read this language not seen this document, where Benedek was permitted to enter Russia. Probably, this is to address the OSCE. In particular, in the Bureau of democracy and human rights, which provided the work of the Rapporteur, and seek motivation. Or the foreign Ministry.

And we are back to the position of the Federal government. Even if we assume that on the territory of Chechnya, its actual capabilities are limited, then, in any case, it was possible not to interfere with the European expert? So what is it: an inability or unwillingness, in your opinion?

When the Federal government refused to investigate those serious allegations, suspicions that were put forward by the defenders in respect of the Chechen authorities and the police — we are talking, incidentally, about the crimes against humanity — they have become accomplices in this crime. They cover the crime. And it is not surprising that they do not let people who want to conduct an independent investigation. Then it will become obvious their role. And so they are now in the same boat with those who torture and kill people in Chechnya.

Last year you tried to bring in another international mechanism. Made a report about the Chechen events in the UN Committee on combating torture. Effect, apparently, was not followed?

As you know, no. Here it is necessary to explain. This Committee, which was created to monitor compliance with the UN Convention on the prohibition of torture. And what are you doing in this Committee? They review country reports, consider alternate reports from non-governmental organizations and make recommendations to the state. That’s all they can do. And will fulfill the state these recommendations or not is they are not independent.

That is another international mechanism which is provided, but actually not really working…

I share that view, it is a really weak mechanism. In the same way as, for example, the Universal periodic review, which Russia also takes place. That is the reason to pay attention to the situation in Russia, but not a guarantee that this situation will change, unfortunately. Guarantees do not, they only in Russia. But there are other mechanisms that we haven’t had, by and large. It is important for us to establish and permanently recorded facts. That is, if victims and witnesses are afraid to go to the Russian investigative authorities, there are more mechanisms in the UN that allow you to record the facts, including to communicate with victims and witnesses. And we’ll these mechanisms to use. I’m not ready to talk about the details, we will inform about it as our actual progress. But, nevertheless, we will continue this work, including through the UN.

►► Gay men from Chechnya and Jehovah’s Witnesses: who in 2017 requested asylum in France

Chechen authorities consistently deny the information on detention and torture in the region of people suspected of homosexuality. On Thursday evening, 31 January, “Novaya Gazeta” became known that in Grozny the police tried to detain Nizhny Novgorod lawyer Alexander Karavayev, who is representing the detainee, according to human rights defenders, a resident of Chechnya Bekkhan Yusupov. At the moment, the caravan is preparing a claim in state and Federal insurance, Prosecutor’s office and the FSB, as well as appeal to the Commissioner for human rights Tatyana Moskalkova with the request to help to establish the fate of the resident of Chechnya Bekkhan Yusupova, who has political refugee status in France.
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