By Micheal Lavers Originally Appeared in The Washington Blade
Fifty members of Congress have asked Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to publicly criticize the arrest of gay men in Chechnya.
They note in an April 7 letter to Tillerson that they are “greatly disturbed by reports of arrests, disappearances and extrajudicial murders of gay men in Chechnya.”
Novaya Gazeta, a Russian newspaper, on April 1 reported authorities in the semi-autonomous Russian republic have arrested more than 100 men in “connection with their non-traditional sexual orientation, or suspicion of such.”
Novaya Gazeta said authorities beat and tortured the men with electric shocks. The newspaper said at least three of these men died after Chechen authorities arrested them.
Novaya Gazeta on April 4 reported gay men have been sent to secret prisons that have been described as “concentration camps.” The Russian LGBT Network on Monday confirmed this report to the Washington Blade.
“During your confirmation hearings, we were heartened to hear your commitment to continue the State Department’s tradition of advancing human rights for all through American foreign policy,” reads the letter that members of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus sent to Tillerson on Monday. “To this end, we ask for your immediate assistance in securing an end to the targeting and slaughter of gay men in Chechnya and your support for a fair investigation of and punishment for the perpetrators of this human rights atrocity.”
U.S. Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.), Julia Brownley (D-Calif.), Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.), Charlie Crist (D-Fla.), Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.), Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), Susan Davis (D-Calif.), Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), Elliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Bill Foster (D-Ill.), Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii), Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), William Keating (D-Mass.), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Ruben Kihuen (D-Nev.), Daniel Kildee (D-Mich.), Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Donald Norcross (D-N.J.), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.), Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.), David Price (D-N.C.), Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), Jan Shakowsky (D-Ill.), Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), Mark Takano (D-Calif.), Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.) signed the letter.
Tillerson meets with Putin in Moscow
The State Department in an April 7 statement that Acting Spokesperson Mark Toner issued said it is “increasingly concerned about the situation” in Chechnya and “categorically” condemns “the persecution of individuals based on their sexual orientation or any other basis.” The State Department has yet to publicly comment on the secret prisons in which gay Chechen men have been sent.
A spokesperson for the Russian government said the arrests are “a question of law enforcement agencies.” A spokesperson for Chechnya’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, told a Russian government news agency earlier this month that it is “impossible to prosecute those who are not in the republic.”
“If such people existed in Chechnya, law enforcement would not have to worry about them, as their own relatives would have sent them to where they could never return,” said Kadyrov’s spokesperson.
Kadyrov is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Tillerson on Wednesday met with Putin, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and other Kremlin officials in Moscow. It is not immediately clear whether the men discussed the arrest of gay Chechen men.