One gay man from Chechnya tells his story.

I am gay, but I’m not the kind of guy to shout about it. Even my wife doesn’t know and we have our fourth child on the way. I have many relatives and not one knows. I live a normal life. Yet if I had the chance to meet up with a man I wouldn’t say no. I need it. I don’t think it’s my fault. Perhaps it’s my nature, or maybe a disease.

In our republic no one walks around with piercings, long hair or anything like that.  In no way do people show their sexual orientation. Would you even say that I’m gay by looking at me? I look no different from men on the street there.

In most families, in practically all families, we don’t talk about things like that. You don’t put your photos on dating sites, that just doesn’t happen. No one [amongst local gays] knows each other’s names, where each other works, or where each other lives. Everyone uses nicknames which make finding us difficult. Say someone is looking for a ‘Musa’, yet actually, you are Said.

I worked hard, I had enough to live comfortably. I had a friend who was also gay. We rarely saw each other, very rarely. We had a mutual acquaintance. I don’t know what kind of relationship the two of them had but I knew both of them. People saw them approach me, they saw us talking. Our mutual acquaintance had also introduced me to his relative. That relative was arrested and taken in for something, and they must have looked through his phone. They saw from his contacts that he was of a non-traditional orientation. That’s how, working their way through, they found me.

A policeman rang me: “Where are you? Get dressed quickly, I’m coming to your house now”. I quickly put my telephone on the shelf and took another one, which had no contacts on it. I went outside, and they were already waiting for me. In the car they pushed my head down so I couldn’t see where we were going. I understood straight away what they had taken me in for. They searched through my telephone, but didn’t find anything.

They led me into a cellar. It was damp and the doors were thick. It was horrible. The boy was already down there, that guy’s relative. As for him [the mutual acquaintance], he had been released for incriminating both of us.

They beat me for the first few hours. I had a serious hematoma and broken ribs. Then came the electricity. They had some contraption with iron clamps, they would put them on my ears or hands and begin.

I lasted.

The words were worse. They say a wound left by a knife will heal, but one left by words will not. My mind was ruined.

They were looking for my friend, but they couldn’t find his number. I said that I knew him as a friend, a neighbour, that I have my own family. I said: if I am gay, find anybody who says they have been with me, I will swear an oath that it isn’t true. And I would have sworn.

The guy who was brought in with me was a sportsman, handsome. A good guy. He lasted too. Only he would shout very loudly. I’d shout back at him “At least think something up to tell them.” He was in a lot of pain.

It was a big cellar, with lots of rooms. You could hear everything, but couldn’t see. We were there for a week. They didn’t feed us at all. We were starving. No food or water. We were allowed to pray though. You could go to the toilet, clean for prayer and quickly drink some water.

In Grozny there is one man who looks the part. Among gay men he is known for his sense of style. Always beautifully dressed. Of course, straights, when they see him, guess that he is gay, but don’t know for sure. The soldier who was questioning me had apparently been making inquiries about him for a while. But there was no proof. He was found and brought in. They were questioning me and then he was led into the room.

“Do you know him?”

It was good that we could see each other. I said “I don’t know him.”

He heard me and understood that I had said nothing about him. He also said that he didn’t know me. They began to lie to him: “he has been talking about you, that you are one of them.”

He replied “How am I supposed to know who he is? Is he meant to be my friend?”

They couldn’t get any further with him, and they let him go. He is abroad now. It was a good thing, for everybody’s sake, that he managed to leave. He has no children left behind, he lives his own life. And he wouldn’t have lasted under the treatment we faced.

During the time I was held, they managed to find the address of my friend. They went to his home and his parents said that he had left for Rostov. His parents then rang him. He immediately sold his property at half price and flew out of the country. His actions saved us and we were soon released.

The police said to me “not a word to anyone, stay at home, so we can always be in contact.” They told me this so I wouldn’t leave, so that they could find me at any time. My family and I had already been preparing to move house. Of course, as soon as I was out, we moved away. I began to work, to live a normal life, and quietly everything settled down. Only I had gone completely grey, people on the street didn’t recognise me.

My relatives are the type who… well, if they found out, they wouldn’t have let the policemen kill me, they would have killed me themselves. They wouldn’t stand for such a disgrace. They knew I had been taken in, but they didn’t know what for. They asked the policeman who took me in – he just said he was following orders and he didn’t know anything. My relatives went through the possibilities: he doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink, doesn’t cause any trouble, he doesn’t do anything. But another policeman said that there had been rumours that I was gay. [They replied] “How is he gay, he has a family, he couldn’t be.” But they stopped searching. [They decided] in a case like this, we’ll wait. I came home and I said “they were searching for one person, an acquaintance of mine, and they were trying to find him through me.” Later, a relative took me to one side and said “There was that rumour about you, I nearly died from shame”. I said “It’s not true, how am I gay? You know me, its absolute rubbish.”

Once there was a sudden wave [of arrests]. What caused it? Well, it was triggered by an addiction that has taken hold of our republic. All because they banned vodka. It’s practically impossible to buy – from only a maximum of two or three places and only during small windows of time. Everyone has moved on to pills – “Liriki”, “Tropiki”, psychotropics. A lot of people are hooked. One man was arrested because of them. Of course the police took his phone and looked through it. They found Hornet [a gay dating app], and photos. Following the trail, they began to round everyone up. Such grief, all because of an accident.

Another time in Tsotsin-Yurt [a town west of Grozny, the capital of Chechnya] some men were being held at the old regiment building. I know this for certain. My relative works there [who perhaps works for the Chechen police-trans]. He doesn’t know about me.

He rings me and says “What are you up to? ***, did you have any idea there are so many gays in Chechnya?”

“What gays?”

“There are loads of them here, 200 have been brought in. Even people like them are here.”

So highly are we considered.

I say “No way.”

“Yeah, as I said, they’re here. We were given the go-ahead to catch them in the act.”

“What for?”

“To disgrace them. Their relatives are called, the video is played, and well… they say “he’s yours, you need to do something about it. Either you do it, or we will. You kill him, or we’ll kill him. Choose.” They probably filmed them so there would be some kind of proof.

Later they arrested one guy who I knew. He was released home and was dead a day later. I know the names of people who were killed by their relatives.

There was another man, from either Poland or Germany, and he could freely leave and enter the country. A nice guy. Once, he arrived in the republic and they arrested him too. They held him for 40 days. When he got out, his legs were black.

Why did I run away? My former neighbour rang me: soldiers had come, knocking on my door, looking for me. She lied to them, saying she didn’t know where we had moved to. On that same day another acquaintance of mine had been arrested. He was let out almost immediately, they weren’t looking for him. But he had heard them say my name when talking amongst themselves “ Now let’s go after that one.” He rang me: hide, disappear, they are after you.

I was scared, and I began to run frantically from one acquaintance to another. I didn’t believe anyone. Only one friend managed to convince me that there was help available [the Russian LGBT-site hotline] Even though I had heard about it from other people, I didn’t believe it. Everything can be sold, but I have a family. I live not for my own sake, but for my family’s. I have children, I can’t take risks. But I listened. I trusted my friend and so I am now here. My parents don’t know where I am. I haven’t even told my wife. I lied to her and said a friend of mine had offered me work. She said “if it’s that good, go.”

I have only just begun to return to normal, I am drinking glycine, and am on medication. Hit me, beat me and I won’t say anything, it will pass. But my spirit… They killed my spirit there. If it wasn’t a sin to hang myself, I would have already done it. When I’m asleep I jump up out of bed in fear. I go out on the street and I constantly think I’m being followed. I’m afraid of the telephone. A car stops and I cross the street. I don’t even want to live in Moscow. They are everywhere.

I have no way back, I don’t know where I will go now and I don’t know what will happen to me. I know one thing: if I move away I will get myself settled and then collect my family. My children…no, not even my grandchildren will go to Chechnya. I won’t allow them to go there while I am still alive. I fear for them. I know how attached my children are to me. My daughter doesn’t sleep unless I am nearby. She cries, understand? And I cannot go home.

What good is it being gay? I want to live a calm life, like all people. To work, to drink, to eat. To pay taxes. I interfered with no one, I haven’t asked for anything from anybody. I’ve worked all my life, I’ve only ever given. I am not guilty for being gay. I don’t break the law or organise gay-parades. And if a person finds that he is gay, he shouldn’t be killed, nor made an example of. You’ve got to help him somehow. Maybe put him in hospital. Maybe it can be treated. Or maybe you just need to make peace with it.

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