Earlier this year, shocking reports started emerging that authorities in the northern Russian republic Chechnya were capturing, torturing and killing gay and bisexual men, just because of who they are and who they love.
Since these first reports in April, more and more stories have appeared in news outlets across the world about the horrific situation same-sex attracted men face in Chechnya. International organisations like Human Rights Watch have confirmed that more than 100 men have been abducted since February this year, and there are reports that at least three have been killed.
Some men in Chechnya believed they were going to meet other men but were actually lured into traps. Men are being captured and taken to one of six detention centres where they have been deprived of food and water, electrocuted and beaten. Others have reportedly been forced to out other men, who the authorities then targeted.
The men who have then been returned to their families have been forced to come out to them, placing them in further danger.
Shame and denial
In Chechnya, homosexuality is seen by many as a stain on a whole family. The only way to wash away this stain is to kill the gay or bisexual family member, which can be viewed as "honour killings". This in part explains why the uncle of a 17-year-old boy reportedly pushed him off a balcony to his death.
Chechen authorities have denied any of this is happening. In fact, when asked about these reports, a government spokesperson said there were no gay or bi people in Chechyna, saying "you cannot arrest or repress people who just don't exist in the republic." Yet they’ve also issued warnings to families: ‘kill your gay sons or we’ll do it for you’.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel was the first world leader to raise the capturing, torturing and killing of gay and bi men with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Newly-elected French President Emmanuel Macron recently joined the German Chancellor by raising it at a joint press conference with the Russian President.
Putin has committed to independently investigating these reports, yet many are sceptical that this will result in the end of these attacks.
The Russian LGBT Network has told of its efforts to support men in Chechnya to escape to safety. So far they have helped more than 40 men get out of the republic. People across the world are donating to the Network to support their escape efforts.
An offer of shelter
Now a number of countries have offered refuge to gay and bisexual men whose lives were in danger in Chechnya. Lithuania led the charge of countries throughout Europe accepting gay and bi Chechens, with Germany and France recently joining them. Other countries have entered into discussions to offer men safety within their borders, but they have asked not to be named in the interest of preserving refugees’ safety.
Here in Australia, there have been increasing calls for our government to speak up about what is happening in Chechnya and to offer safety in Australia to gay and bi men who remain in Chechnya.
Human Rights Watch has raised with the Australian government the prospect of accepting gay and bi Chechens given the level of safety they’d be afforded here. Australia is an ideal location given our physical distance from Chechnya and our relatively small Chechen diaspora.
On the day before IDAHOBiT, the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, more than 600 people came together in Melbourne for a community vigil to remember the gay and bisexual men who have been killed and send a message of solidarity to the Chechen LGBTIQ community. The vigil also called on PM Turnbull to offer refuge to gay and bisexual Chechens. Over that week, similar vigils were held in cities across the country, including Sydney, Hobart and Adelaide.
Time to act
Despite growing community pressure, beyond Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s claims that Australia has raised the issue with Russia through diplomatic channels, the Australian government has remained quiet on the attacks.
Greens LGBTIQ spokesperson Senator Janet Rice worked with community members to raise what is happening in Chechnya in the Senate and call on our government to take action. However, the government shut this down before it could even go to a vote.
Now more than ever the Chechen LGBTI community are living in fear. Fear for their own safety, and the safety of their gay and bi friends and loved ones. Fear not just of the authorities, but potentially of their own families.
In 2015 then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott did the right thing and offered refuge to 12,000 Syrians who were in danger; right now Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull could do the same for Chechens.
It’s time for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to join the growing list of world leaders speaking out about what is happening in Chechnya. It’s time that he open up our arms to gay and bisexual Chechen refugees.
How you can help
Sign the All Out petition calling on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to offer safety to gay and bisexual men who remain in grave danger in Chechnya.
Donate to the Russian LGBT Network which is working to evacuate gay and bi men from Chechnya.
Call and email your Federal MP to ask them to speak out and join community members calling for Australia to act and offer refuge to gay and bisexual Chechen men.
Adam Pulford is a former staff member for Adam Bandt, MP for Melbourne and was a co-organiser of the Melbourne vigil for bi and gay men in Chechnya.