Raids in Belarus, Death in Chechnya Continue Alarming Assault on LGBT Community

Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First today expressed alarm following a recent wave of attacks and crackdowns on the LGBT community in Eastern Europe and Central Asia including the apparent killing of Zelim Bakaev by Chechen authorities. The organization calls on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to take immediate action to ensure the perpetrators of crimes against LGBT people in the region are held accountable and that the governments of Russia, Belarus, Chechnya, Azerbaijan, and Tajikistan protect their LGBT citizens.

The most recent crackdown in the region was this weekend’s raids of nightclubs popular with the LGBT community in Belarus, during which two clubs were shuttered, and patrons were harassed—and in some cases detained—by police.

“The reports out of Belarus are alarming. It is alarming that police targeted legal businesses, violated the privacy of their patrons, demanded personal information, and dragged some away to detention,” said Human Rights First’s Shawn Gaylord. “This appears to be the latest example of increased persecution of LGBT communities in the region—following egregious cases in Chechnya, Azerbaijan, and Tajikistan. The U.S. government should raise these issues with their Belarusian counterparts and make it clear that the United States will not stand by while already-marginalized communities are targeted and attacked.”

The Belarusian raids come after a wave of incidents targeting the LGBT community in the region. Last Wednesday a Russian court fined activist Evdokiya Romanova 50,000 rubles for violating the country’s notorious “gay propaganda” law for sharing news articles on social media featuring LGBT people. Later in the week, reports surfaced in Tajikistan that government representatives had created a registry of gay and lesbian citizens—a step that Human Rights First noted could serve as a precursor to violence and discrimination against LGBT people in the country. At the beginning of October, in Azerbaijan, authorities detained and tortured dozens of gay and transgender people under the auspices of cracking down on the illegal sex trade and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

Perhaps the most shocking, however, is the ongoing crackdown on the LGBT community in Chehnya, where activists now report Zelim Bakaev has been killed by authorities.

Bakaev, a Chechen singer who had been targeted based on rumors of his sexual orientation, traveled to his home in Grozny, Chechnya over two months ago and disappeared shortly after. His visit coincided with a long-running crackdown on LGBT Chechens that detained hundreds, tortured many, and left several dead. Members of the LGBT community in Grozny now report that Bakaev never left detention and died following torture by Chechen security forces.

“Over the past two months, the international community hoped that rumors of Zelim’s death were only that. But as we continued to raise concerns with the State Department, that hope dimmed. We are now forced to conclude that he was tragically swept up in this anti-gay purge and lost his life because of it,” added Gaylord.

Human Rights First notes that these incidents are part of a broader pattern of organized persecution of LGBT people in the region that dates back to legislation targeting the free speech and expression of Russia’s LGBT community. The organization continues to call on the U.S. government to protect LGBT people globally and to combat impunity for those who have perpetrated acts of violence and persecution against LGBT communities.

For more information or to speak with Gaylord, contact Christopher Plummer at [email protected] or 202-370-3310.


Published on October 24, 2017


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