Update: Buzzfeed updated their article yesterday, clarifying that visas were not formally denied, however the group attempting to escape Russia was discouraged by conversations with the US embassy:
After initial publication of this story, the Russia LGBT Network spokesperson clarified that the US had not yet formally denied any visa applications. But the group was not facilitating applications to the United States because it was so discouraged by their conversations with the US embassy.
“We were informed there was no political will,” said the spokesperson, who asked her name be withheld because of security concerns. “They’re not going to provide visas. They’re going to support us in other ways, but not with visas.”
BuzzFeed reported that the United States declined visas to around 40 gay and bisexual men attempting to flee Chechnya, a semi-autonomous region in southern Russia. A U.S. State Department spokesperson would not comment on visa denials citing confidentiality.
These human beings continue to live with the very real threat of being kidnapped and brought to one of six secret prisons in the Russia-controlled predominately Muslim region used to detain, torture, and murder people even suspected or accused of being gay.
Ramzan Kadyrov, the pro-Kremlin “strongman” ruling Chechnya with “near impunity” since 2007, has denied the crackdown on LGBT Chechnyans, insisting that Chechnya “does not have this phenomenon called non-traditional sexual orientation.” Human rights organizations and international news outlets, as well as the stories of those fleeing the country, prove otherwise.
Kadyrov is also accused of hunting down his critics in Russia and even outside Russia’s borders in Europe. Similar to Donald Trump, he called reporters the “enemies of our faith and of our country” in a televised rally, causing reporters who broke the story to flee Russia, understandably fearing for their own safety.
The Chechnya government won’t admit that gay men even exist in Chechnya, let alone that they ordered what the police call ‘preventive mopping up’ of people they deem undesirable.
Turning away refugees, even those fearing genocide, harkens back to the days of World War II, when the United States refused entry to thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust due to fears they were Nazi spies.
Today, we have news that America is turning away those fleeing concentration camps in Russia-controlled territory mixed with news dropping that Trump’s campaign made at least 18 undisclosed contacts with Russian officials and others during the 2016 presidential race. We also know that Trump didn’t bother to bring up the subject of the Chechnya human rights violations during his Oval Office meeting with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov. Trump’s stance has been silence, which equals consent.
Vladimir Putin conducted a brief investigation after facing international pressure, only to conclude there was no evidence of wrongdoing shortly after that. The credibility of that investigation is certainly hopeless, considering that Putin’s own anti-LGBT stance probably led to the persecution in Chechnya today.
At least we have hope that investigations into Trump and Putin’s relationship here at home will be conducted in a credible manner today.
In the meantime, we look to real leadership from our former Vice President, Joe Biden, who released a strong statement about the atrocities facing LGBT people in Russia and elsewhere yesterday for the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. He joins our neighbor Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, in calling for the protection of the people of Chechnya.
“In Canada and around the world, we must continue to fight against homophobia, transphobia, and biphobia, and to defend gender expression, gender identity and sexual orientation rights. We deplore the recent, reprehensible reports of violations of the human rights of gay and bisexual men in Chechnya. We call for the protection of all people in Chechnya whose sexual orientation makes them a target for persecution. Human rights have no borders,” said Trudeau in his statement.
Sign the Amnesty International petition: Chechnya: Stop Abducting and Killing Gay Men
Join the Chechnya100 Facebook page for more information on what you can do.
For more, watch the first-hand account from a survivor of a Chechnyan concentration camp below:
Featured image via Wikimedia Commons, Vladimir Putin and Ramzan Kadyrov