© 2024 WKNO FM
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

2 Gay Men Escape Torture In Chechnya


Let's just say it. This country, Russia, is incredibly unfriendly to people who are gay. Russia has laws on the books that can punish someone for talking about homosexuality in front of children. And yet, what's happening in the southern Russian republic of Chechnya is beyond comprehension, even here. We should say, the next seven minutes of radio could disturb some listeners. I want to take you to an unmarked apartment building in Moscow. There is a notice taped on the entrance with a list of tenants who haven't paid their rent. We're waiting outside for five minutes or so. And eventually, a woman and two young men walk quickly towards the entrance. They seem a little nervous, eager to get indoors. The woman waves for us to follow. And we do, climbing five flights of stairs.

Top floor. Unmarked metal door. And we go to an apartment.

So when we set up this interview, we thought we would be at the Moscow Community Center, a place for LGBT people to gather. But instead, they led us to this address and a tucked-away apartment that the organization is using to house men who have fled Chechnya. We've read the stories. Human rights groups and journalists have documented how gay men have been rounded up in the Russian province - detained, tortured. Their families have been shamed. Chechnya is predominantly Muslim, and homosexuality isn't tolerated. The woman who walks us into the apartment is the director of the Moscow Community Center. And working with the Russian LGBT Network, she has helped more than 30 men escape safely to Moscow. The two she walked in with are ready to tell their stories.

And can we talk to these guys? Would that be OK?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Russian) Konechno.

GREENE: Konechno - of course. So I introduce myself.

(Speaking Russian) David.

That is about the extent of my Russian. And so you'll hear the interpreter we brought along with us. And the men - our sound engineers distorted their voices. We don't want anyone to be able to figure out who they are or where they are. We also had them choose different names, Gregory (ph) and Arnie (ph). We talked to Gregory first. He's from elsewhere in Russia, but he had been living in Chechnya for about two years running a business.

GREGORY: (Speaking Russian).

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: When the whole story began, he was kidnapped, kept for 12 days in a basement, where he was beaten.

GREENE: These stories from Chechnya have been investigated by news organizations, also human rights groups. And we asked Gregory and Arnie for whatever evidence they can provide. Both show us photos on their phones of their brutal injuries.

So can you tell me what we're looking at?

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: These kind of bruises were all over their body.

GREGORY: (Speaking Russian).

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: All over their body. Back - lower part of back, legs and this part between knee and feet.

GREENE: We've learned about one way these kidnappings in Chechnya have multiplied. Detained men have been forced to name partners. And Gregory was instructed to set up a date with someone he knew. He was driven to where the date had been planned.

GREGORY: (Speaking Russian).

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: And the police officers put a plastic black bag on Gregory's head. When they came to the date place, the officer put a gun to his head and asked him to call that guy out of the car.

GREENE: The other guy was kidnapped, and then both he and Gregory were beaten. But then Gregory was released. And he's not sure why. It might have something to do with the fact that he's not originally from Chechnya. But he was given a bus ticket, and he was told to get out of Chechnya. And when he was on that bus, he called his mother.

GREGORY: (Speaking Russian).

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: His mom, before, had received a call about Gregory's case. And she was told that she should be prepared to take his dead body. When she received Gregory's call, she was very happy, and she was crying. It was a very difficult moment for both of them.

GREENE: Gregory's story is unusual because his family still supports him. Most of the men who've escaped Chechnya might never be able to go home to their relatives. And that is the case for 18-year-old Arnie. He's sitting next to Gregory on the couch. An hour has gone by since we got here. Arnie has been listening with his hands clenched. He's been staring forward. He seems to want a break now. And he's asking around for a cigarette.

Would you like to smoke?


GREENE: He smokes out on a balcony just off the room where we are. And then he comes back. And he's struggling to remember details of his story himself. He's pieced together that he was kidnapped and severely injured before waking up in a hospital bed after being in a coma for nearly two weeks.

ARNIE: (Speaking Russian).

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: He doesn't remember anything. He can only tell the story, which his cousin told him.

GREENE: Based on his cousin's retelling, Arnie was brought to his family's doorstep unconscious and inside a burlap bag. Our interpreter refers to the bag as a parcel.

ARNIE: (Speaking Russian).

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: Some guys came to his house and told the relatives, this are your son. He is homosexual. And everyone was shocked. And Arnie's uncle took him out of the parcel. He hold his neck and was going to kill him.

GREENE: Whoever brought Arnie told the family to do what they have to do with him. Arnie believes that the only reason his uncle didn't kill him that day was that he was already on the verge of death. Weeks later, he woke up in the hospital. Family members came into his hospital room, and they told him they were disowning him. Arnie thinks that is because of their Muslim faith. And there have been reports of families in Chechnya shamed by these kidnappings and pressured to kill their own sons. The organization that brought Arnie here to Moscow is now determined to find a new home for him outside Russia.

I don't know - even - how you could think about this now, but what do you think about living somewhere else outside of - outside of Russia? I mean, could you see beginning a new life there, or does that scare you?

ARNIE: (Speaking Russian).

GREENE: Arnie tells us that one day he is hoping he can persuade his relatives that no matter who he is, no matter what his sexual orientation is, the only thing that should matter is how he treats them. As we leave and we're packing up our radio equipment, Arnie walks back out onto that balcony for another cigarette and to cry. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.