Humiliation and Human Rights in Chechnya

By Alex Yeo

"The Kadyrov regime is a dangerous force, a threat to both the people it rules over and Chechens abroad. "

Content Warning - this first section contains imagery some readers may find distressing. If that isn’t your thing, skip past the first two paragraphs. Nevertheless, I have omitted the worst of this content.

Earlier this month, a shocking video emerged on social media platforms in the Russian Republic of Chechnya. In this video, a man, stripped of all clothing, is shown kneeling, clearly in great distress. He says that he is guilty of criticising the Chechen Government of Ramzan Kadyrov, apologising for this act. He then goes on to say he is an administrator of a Telegram Channel named 1ADAT, which he denounces.

Finally, he says that he wants to punish himself - which he does, on video, in abject humiliation.

This is a horrifying scene, one which paints a terrifying picture, invoking images of regimes which we were told as children were a thing of the past. Yet, this is happening within Europe, this is happening now - and this is not an isolated incident.

Kadyrov’s rise

Chechnya is one of Russia’s Republics - areas of the Russian Federation with a large ethnic group/s that is given some autonomy. As with any political division, this autonomy tends to change from Republic to Republic, despite them all nominally existing on the same level. Chechnya is located in the Northern Caucasus, with five other Republics, on Russia’s southern border.

You’ve probably heard of Chechnya before. In the 1990s, as the Soviet Union withered and died, Chechnya attempted to break away from the newly-founded Russian Federation. Two bloody wars followed, devastating the region, with the period between the wars affording the de-facto state little stability.

Ramzan Kadyrov Chechya
Ramzan Kadyrov Photo:

During this period, a certain Akhmad Kadyrov rose to prominence - first as the Mufti of the breakaway state, before switching sides to join pro-Russian forces and become the President, or Head, of the Chechen Republic under Russia. His tenure lasted until his assassination in 2004, after which Vladimir Putin began to groom his son, Ramzan Kadyrov, for the Chechen leadership, a role he assumed in 2007.

This is, of course, a very simplified version of events. However, this sets the stage for Kadyrov’s rule and the human rights abuses that have followed.

Repression in Chechnya

Throughout his tenure as Head of the Republic, Kadyrov has been accused of various crimes against humanity. Possibly the most infamous of these is what is known in Western media as the “Gay Purge,” the systematic targetting of LGBT people in Chechnya.

The issue of anti-LGBT sentiments is not a Chechen-problem alone, indeed the Russian Federation under Putin is also curbing rights and freedoms of LGBT people throughout Russia. However, Chechnya under Kadyrov has gone one step further. Members of the LGBT community have been subject to violent harassment, torture, forced disappearances and outright murder. Kadyrov denies not only the existence of any persecution but of the existence of LGBT people in Chechnya as a whole.

Another infamous action of the Kadyrov government is the systemic targeting of journalists and critics in assassination attempts. Since 2007, 10 critics of his regime have been attacked, with 6 dying as a result. Three of these attacks have occurred in 2020 - only one critic, Tumo Abdurakhmanov, survived. All 10 of these attacks happened outside of Chechnya - 8 in Europe, 1 in Turkey and 1 in the UAE.

"Kadyrov denies not only the existence of any persecution but of the existence of LGBT people in Chechnya as a whole."

Without a doubt, however, the strangest method of repression is the forced apologies employed within recent years. The most dramatic of these was the incident described at the beginning of this article but many, many more have taken place. These range from tourists apologising for saying unfavourable things about the Republic, to people accused of witchcraft and occultism, to people who have been caught driving dangerously, and people merely complaining about the lack of disabled access in Chechnya.

The Kadyrov regime is a dangerous force, a threat to both the people it rules over and Chechens abroad. There have been reports that Russia and Putin may be starting to lose control over Kadyrov’s actions - something I, personally, would agree with. When their rulers don’t seem to care about what their governors are doing to them, it is up to us to stand with Chechens in opposition. The Chechen government is guilty is of these crimes - we cannot let the voices of those who are victims go unheard.

Alex Yeo is a Masters student from Portsmouth, finishing an MRes in Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies at the University of Glasgow. His main areas of interest are the Former Soviet Union, the politics behind COVID-19 Restrictions, and Authoritarianism, among other things. He has also previously worked with the HET.

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