It's now two weeks since I wrote about a protest outside the Russian Embassy to highlight the mistreatment of gay men in Chechnya. It was incredible and humbling to see around a thousand people turn up, and more than a quarter of a million people watch the livestream on Facebook.
The impact of the protest was encouraging: the media appeared to wake up to the atrocities unfolding in Chechnya, with broadcasters from around the world starting to take notice. Here in the UK, the mainstream media began reporting first-hand testimonies from gay men 'liberated' from the region, and questions were asked in the House of Commons. A shocking New York Times piece at the weekend left many of us sick to the stomach.
Despite this increased focus, things appear to be getting even worse for LGBT+ people in Chechnya. Just a month ago, henchmen for the Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov were publicly stating that homosexuals 'did not exist' in Chechnya. But Foreign Office officials monitoring the situation there have confirmed reports that Kadyrov has said he wants the LGBT+ community 'eliminated' by the start of the holy month of Ramadan, one month from today. Further reports in recent days suggest that as many as six prisons are now being used to incarcerate gay men - and, presumably, bisexuals, lesbians, trans people and anyone else who doesn't accord with Kadyrov's antediluvian view that everyone should be heterosexual and cisgendered.
Confirmation that Kadyrov wants LGBT+ people 'eliminated' by Ramadan is also confirmation that people are under the greatest threat in the region. The authorities cannot on the one hand claim that such people do not exist, and then on the other talk of the need for their elimination.
President Putin's hatred of the LGBT+ community is well known and documented. Unsurprisingly, his press secretary Dmitry Peskov has said that the Kremlin doesn't recognise the allegations of a 'surge' against the LGBT+ community, and Kadyrov is reported to have assured Putin himself that the stories are untrue. But here too there are inconsistencies that expose Kadyrov's lies. The corroboration of testimonies published in The Guardian, The New York Times and elsewhere, alongside accounts published by Human Rights Watch, and St Petersburg-based Russian LGBT Network who are themselves evacuating people from the region, are too convincing to dismiss.
There has been sustained interest across the UK in the unfolding horrors in Chechnya. Pride organisations in Glasgow, Hull, Liverpool, Preston, Bristol, Norwich and Leeds, among others, followed Pride in London by holding vigils and protests. And whilst Foreign Office ministers have been quick to condemn the situation, the calling of the snap general election doesn't help maintain focus on what is clearly an increasingly shocking human rights abuse. Politicians' attentions will be more focused on UK affairs than ever before, and this issue could easily be lost in the chaos of the election.
But there is action we can take to maintain the pressure. We can sign Amnesty's petition, backed by Stonewall, Pride in London and others. And although parliament dissolves next Wednesday, ministers remain in their roles until a successor is appointed after the election and we must continue to apply pressure to government to make representations at the highest level. We should be pressuring the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to summon the Russian Ambassador to discuss the worsening situation and make representations on behalf of the government. Governments around the world should be doing the same. And we need increased action from the EU and United Nations. We need them to act before Kadyrov becomes just another name on lists of those responsible for genocide.
Until governments act, and these abuses can be brought to an end, we are all nervously relying on the heroes at the Russian LGBT Network who are putting their own lives at risk, and those of their families and friends, to evacuate those at risk from Chechnya. Removing people to a place of safety is not an easy job, and nor is it something that can be done without funds.
Most people get paid this week, and most of us could spare the cost of a drink this bank holiday weekend, or maybe more. Whatever you can afford, a donation to the Network will help those on the front line of this crisis to get more people out of the region, and to safety.
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