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Russia’s Human Rights Commissioner Tatyana Moskalkova has said there are sufficient grounds to open a criminal case into Chechnya’s persecution of queer people, according to Russian news agency TASS. While human rights activists are continuing to push for a case to be launched, the Chechen authorities have continued to deny all accusations.
Moskalkova says she has received confirmation of torture by the Chechen authorities from Maksim Lapunov, who claims to have been held in a secret prison in Chechnya this spring.
Authorities earlier refused to launch criminal proceedings; this decision, according to Moskalkova, has now been revoked.
‘I went directly to the Investigation Department of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation for the North Caucasus Federal District and got acquainted with all the verification materials personally. Today, the decision to refuse to open a criminal case has been cancelled. Questions have been raised about finding those witnesses to whom Lapunov points, and who were not yet found because of insufficient activity by the investigator,’ Moskalkova said.
The reaction from Chechnya
Chechnya’s Human Rights Commissioner Nurdi Nukhazhiyev agrees that a case must be initiated. He thinks this must be done to stop the spread of rumours and conjectures. He considers Lapunov’s words to be ‘unfounded statements’.
‘In pursuit of media resonance, they are throwing new themes and themes that are already obsolete. Such is the theme around gays. They couldn’t find anyone local, so they pulled someone out from the closet who someone allegedly held somewhere and tortured. As always, these are unfounded statements. No address, no names, no evidence’, he said.
On 1 November, Chechnya’s Minister for National Policy, Dzhambulat Umarov, described reports of torture as ‘delirious’.
‘We have held the same position: the essence of the story about the so-called mythical sodomites on the territory of the Chechen Republic, about some prisons and tortures, about alleged repression are all lies that were made specifically to destabilise the situation in Russia and, in particular, the North Caucasus,’ TASS quotes Umarov as saying.
‘They continue to lie’
The head of rights group the Russian LGBT Network, Igor Kochetkov, says he is not surprised by the reaction of Chechen officials.
‘They continue to lie, maybe even lie to themselves. We know that a grave crime has been committed, which must be investigated. And sooner or later no one will walk scot free,’ Kochetkov told OC Media.
He says that Russian law enforcement agencies do not want to investigate the case. According to Kochetkov, at first they claimed that no victims had come forward. Then, when a complainant appeared, they still refused to launch criminal proceedings.
‘Now they have revoked that refusal, but they have not initiated a case. They allegedly lost the witness, whom the claimant points to. I think it's like ping-pong, an attempt at all costs to prevent an investigation. But I’m sure that they will not succeed. In any case, we will do everything we can to make sure an investigation is launched’, Kochetkov said.
On 1 April 2017, Novaya Gazeta reported that queer people were being detained en masse in Chechnya.
According to a joint report by the Russian LGBT Network and Novaya Gazeta journalist Yelena Milashina, rights activists have helped more than 70 queer people escape Chechnya.