UK’s Boris Johnson meets with Russian LGBT activists, challenges Kremlin over Chechnya
The UK’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson met with LGBT activists and praised their work on a tense trip to Russia.
The British Foreign Secretary made a visit to Moscow this week at a time of frosty relations between the two countries.
Mr Johnson, a supporter of global LGBT rights, took advantage of the trip to meet with local LGBT activists.
The politician also raised the persecution of gay people with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in an awkward exchange during a press conference.
The British official spoke about the importance of civil liberties in a speech at Plekhanov University, before meeting with a group of activists who are fighting for LGBT rights in the country.
He told them: “We celebrate people’s freedom of choice, including whom to love.”
The Foreign Secretary added on Twitter: “Met brave campaigners for LGBT, media freedoms & human rights in Russia. A free, vibrant civil society is a vital component of any democracy.”
The country has a law that outlaws “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships”, which has been used to stifle any public display of homosexuality or display of support for LGBT rights.
The legislation has been condemned by the European Court of Human Rights, for a chilling effect that stifles all dissent on LGBT issues.
Human rights monitors also reported earlier this year that authorities in Chechnya – an autonomous region of Russia – were carrying out a homophobic purge, which the Kremlin failed to intervene to prevent.
Speaking alongside Lavrov, Mr Johnson said: “This is a difficult time in the relations between UK and Russia, as Sergei himself has just said
“We can’t ignore those difficulties, we can’t pretend that they don’t exist, and we don’t share a common perspective on events in Ukraine or the Western Balkans or, as the Prime Minister Theresa May has said, on the Russian activities in cyberspace.
“We speak up for the LGBT community in Chechnya, and elsewhere, as people would expect from us.
“But they would also expect that Britain and Russia, as two P5 [permanent UN Security Council member] countries, should be able, where possible, to coordinate and to work together on the issues that matter to our voters on the issues, that matter to people of the world.
“I believe that having talked many times to Sergei, and particularly after our conversations today, that there are things that we can do together as P5 member across the range of dossiers, as Sergei Lavrov has just said.”
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who orchestrated an anti-gay purge, was this week banned from the US under fresh sanctions.
In response to coverage of the gay purge, the Head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov insisted that homosexuals are “not people” and should be eradicated to “purify” the blood of the region.
This week, nearly eight months on from the first reports of the homophobic purge, the US announced its first official sanctions against Kadyrov.
The Chechen leader was named in a list of sanction targets under the Magnitsky Act, which has been used to punish Russian individuals and officials responsible for human rights abuses.
Kadyrov’s inclusion means any assets held in U.S. banks frozen and, and he is barred from entry into the United States.
LGBT rights groups hailed the decision.
Sarah Kate Ellis, President and CEO of GLAAD said: “Sanctioning those responsible for the horrendous anti-LGBTQ persecution in Chechnya, including Ramzan Kadyrov, is a step towards holding human rights abusers accountable for their atrocities and was a needed action to show that human rights must be prioritized above the personal politics of this administration.
“We cannot stop here as we face a growing epidemic of anti-LGBTQ violence and discrimination around the world that must be swiftly and fully addressed.”
The current White House administration, already under the microscope for its relationship with Russia, came in for criticism earlier this year for its sluggish response to reports of the homophobic purge.
To date, Donald Trump is still yet to officially raise the issue with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, though several other leaders have done so.
France’s President Macron raised LGBT rights and Chechnya in his first meeting with Vladimir Putin earlier this year.
A previous statement from the US State Department said: “We are aware of troubling reports that local authorities in the Republic of Chechnya have arrested or detained more than 100 men, as well as reports that three of those detained were killed.
“We condemn violence against any individuals based on their sexual orientation or any other basis. We urge the Russian government to conduct an independent and credible investigation into the alleged killings and mass arrests, and hold the perpetrators responsible. We were likewise deeply disturbed by local authorities statements that apparently condone and even incite violence against LGBTI persons.
“We are very concerned by the widespread discrimination and violence against LGBTI persons in Russia or any society. We call on the Russian government to protect all people from discrimination and violence, and allow the free exercise of the freedoms of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and religion or belief.”
Kadyrov directly called for gays to be purged earlier this year when he was challenged about the homophobic purge in an interview with HBO.
The 40-year-old tyrant said: “Why did he come here? What’s the point of these questions? This is nonsense. We don’t have those kinds of people here.
“We don’t have any gays. If there are any, take them to Canada.
“Praise be to God. Take them far from us so we don’t have them at home. To purify our blood, if there are any here, take them.
“They are devils. They are for sale. They are not people…. they will have to answer to the Almighty for this.”
It was not the first time that Kadyrov denied that gay men lived in the region, claiming previously that gay people are “fake Chechens”.
Initial reports of gay men being detained in the region, which is an autonomous region of Russia, were revealed by the newspaper Novaya Gazeta earlier this year.
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Journalists who exposed the purge have been forced into hiding as they have received numerous threats from the largest mosque in the region, which has declared jihad against the newspaper.
Following the initial exposure, it was revealed that authorities were forcing gay men into camps, sparking an outcry from LGBT and human rights activists across the world.
A number of heart breaking stories from the region have been shared, including stories of parents of gay people who were issued a warning to kill their children before police killed them in torture camps.
Tanya Lokshina, from the Human Rights Watch, said that Chechen authorities had been conducting “extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, torture and cruel and degrading treatment” over the span of the last two decades.
Novaya Gazeta later confirmed the names of 27 men who were killed on one night in the region.