The Russian ambassador has denied the persecution of LGBT people in Chechnya – partly because President Putin has met with Elton John, according to reports.
Alexander Yakovenko, the Russian Ambassador to the UK, was giving a talk at the Oxford Union on May 29, when students grilled him about Russia’s LGBT rights record.
He was asked by a student: “Ambassador, I’m a gay man and if I was living in Chechnya over the past year I may have been killed tortured or imprisoned.
“I’m therefore asking on behalf of Chechens who have no voice – why has no-one who perpetuated or condoned these crimes been bought to justice and also I’d like to ask you when the LGBT+ community in Russia will have their rights, not only as citizens but as human beings.”
In a rambling response, the Ambassador is reported to have told students that he could not be sure that gay people existed in Chechnya, that Russia is a safe place for LGBT people and that Elton John had met President Putin – so homophobia did not exist in Russia.
He added that if LGBT people didn’t like living in Russia they could move to a different country where there are more LGBT people.
According to Cherwell, the student paper, Yakovenko said: “That is exactly what we’ve discussed with Elton John. He had a conversation with President Putin about this before. And later on there were a lot of publications in Britain about the gay rights and all this.
“By the way, I have a lot of friends who are gays. I have no problem with that. If you live in Russia or the so-called minority communities you have all the rights the same as others.”
When asked if he agreed with claims made by some Chechen authorities that Chechyna doesn’t have any gay people, he said: “Well I don’t know. It’s difficult to say if there are any gay people in Chechnya.”
The official followed by claiming that sometimes the Russian police simply got nervous when gay people protested.
Keir Mather, the Oxford student who asked the question, told PinkNews: “Ambassador Yakovenko’s comments were not a surprise, but laid bare the Putin regime’s abhorrent disregard for the plight of LGBT+ Chechens, who have been living in constant fear of imprisonment, torture, and death.
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“To see someone so calmly deny the existence of homophobic human rights abuses in the nation they represent is harrowing. It is in the interest of the Putin regime to allow the purge of LGBT+ Chechens to fade from memory.
“We must keep up the pressure, endeavour to ensure these people are remembered, and keep fighting for the rights of every LGBT+ person in Russia who still suffers under Putin’s tyrannical regime.”
The Oxford Union, which hosted the talk, has come under fire for allowing the Ambassador to give his talk during Oxford’s Pride Week.
Ramzan Kadyrov, leader of Chechnya, which is a semi-autonomous part of Russia, has previously said that LGBT activists in the region make up false claims about their treatment for money.
However, a Human Rights Watch report last year confirmed that senior figures within the Chechen Government, including Kadyrov, were leading a purge against LGBT people in the Russian-backed state, which began in February 2017.
Scores of LGBT people have been abducted and killed under the crackdown, while others have been beaten and tortured. In April 2017, an article in the Novaya Gazeta newspaper brought the attacks on gay men in Chechnya to international attention, reporting that over 100 men had been rounded up by police.
Authorities running concentration-camp style prisons reportedly used electric shock torture to get inmates to ‘out’ people they knew.
However, nobody has been held accountable for the crimes and Amnesty International has condemned the Russian and Chechen authorities for refusing to properly investigate them.
The campaigning body said two months ago: “We have witnessed a shocking display of denial, evasion and inaction by the authorities, who have repeatedly refused to launch an official investigation into the reported heinous crimes.”