In the midst of President Donald Trump's endlessly controversial administration and bombing of Syria because photos of dead children horrified his daughter Ivanka, gory accounts of Chechnya setting up concentration camps for gay men were lost on typically outraged social media platforms. But this week, protests have finally begun to erupt, with Stonewall UK and Amnesty International arranging demonstrations and the European Pride Organizers Association picketing outside of London's Russian embassy last night.
"The world needs to stand up and take note of what is happening to LGBT people in Chechnya," explains Steve Taylor, Communications Director of European Pride Organizers Association.
Public knowledge of the crisis dates back to last month. Prestigious investigative Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta published an article on March 31 alleging that the Chechen government was rounding up and murdering dozens of gay men. According to the Washington Post, the Russian paper believes the government began their homophobic crusade after a Moscow LGBTQ rights organization filed petitions for a series of protests and that the Chechen authorities have since used gay dating sites to track down target closeted men. The New York Times estimates that 16 to 50 gay men had gone missing, including two television journalists, and Russia project director of the International Crisis Group, Ekaterina Sokirianskaia, confirmed to the Guardian that she had heard similar accounts over the past 10 days.
As they have continued publishing reports on the alleged camps, Novaya Gazeta has claimed that Chechnya had set up concentration camps. The Telegraph believes the government has set up the camps on a former military base roughly six miles away from the capital Grozny, and also reports that the facility has been used to imprison accused drug dealers and alleged members of the Salafi movement, an ultra-conservative branch of Islam associated with terrorists.
Ramzan Akhmadovich Kadyrov, the Head of the Chechen Republic and a controversial devout Muslim who has a $5 million Isis bounty on his head, has denied all news reports. His spokesperson told Russian newspaper RBC that readers should consider the reports "an April Fool's joke."
Ira Roldugina, a historian at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, sees similarities between Chechnya's alleged actions and the Soviet Union. Although Joseph Stalin never build gay-specific camps, he sent gay men to concentration camps along with political prisoners and other criminals. Roldugina has found that after Stalin re-criminalized male gay sex in 1934, 700 to 1500 people were arrested each year.
There are certain similarities between the Chechen situation and the Soviet times.
"This [anti-homosexual] article was a kind of leverage for the authorities to control people, to blackmail them, to compel for collaboration with secret police," Roldugina writes in an email to Broadly. "There are certain similarities between the Chechen situation and the Soviet times, but there is also a huge difference—this deadly hate towards homosexuals in Chechnya is a not a constant trait of this society, it is a politically motivated gesture demonstrating the level of power Kadyrov has in the republic. He is eager to express his loyalty to Putin in a very tricky economical situation, besides."
The concentration camps have sparked the ire of most western media outlets, even Breitbart and the Daily Mail, but the Trump administration has remained silent. Yesterday the LGBT Equality Caucus called for the White House to discuss the accusations against Chechnya. "The situation in Chechnya is horrific," LGBT Equality Caucus Co-Chair Representative David N. Cicilline said in a statement. "Chechen authorities are acting in clear violation of international law. Secretary Tillerson needs to clearly condemn these actions during his visit to Moscow. These abuses cannot be tolerated."
Considering the Trump administration's flip-flopping foreign policy doctrine, only time will tell if the president takes action. Perhaps Ivanka should show him photos of a concentration camp for gay men.