At least 20 activists were arrested in St. Petersburg yesterday for protesting the torture and murder of gay men in Chechnya.
The demonstrators used the city's May Day parade as an opportunity to protest the persecution of gay men by the government, first reported last month. The protestors reportedly covered themselves in fake blood, carried Chechen flags with rainbows and held signs that demanded Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov be tried by the International Court of Justice at the Hague.
Igor Kochetkov, an activist detained at the march, told Reuters he and a group of ten protestors were taken to the St. Petersburg police station while another group was detained elsewhere. Still locked up, he said, "I was waving a rainbow flag (representing gay rights), and was shouting 'Kadyrov should go to the Hague'."
Reports of gay men in Chechnya being detained in concentration camps where they are tortured and even murdered have been largely ignored by international leaders. The Russian journalist who originally broke the story, Elena Milashina, has had to go into hiding following threats. Kadyrov denied the claims with the chilling defense that, "you cannot detain and persecute people who simply do not exist in the republic." A spokesperson for Putin stands by Kadyrov.
UK Minister of Foreign Affairs Alan Duncan brought the issue to parliament last week, citing sources that said Kadyrov planned to "eliminate" the LGBTQ population of Chechnya by May 26.
"Human rights groups report that these anti-gay campaigns and killings are orchestrated by the head of the Chechen republic, Ramzan Kadyrov," he said. "He has carried out other violent campaigns in the past, and this time he is directing his efforts at the LGBT community. Sources have said that he wants the community eliminated by the start of Ramadan. Such comments, attitudes and actions are absolutely contemptible."
Below, a video by Human Rights First shows survivors of the Chechen camps telling their stories:
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