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Russian film festival pulls gay MMA fighter documentary after torrent of hate and ‘serious’ threats

Maggie Baska April 5, 2021
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Demonstrators LGBT Chechnya Russian Embassy London

Demonstrators lay roses on a rainbow flag as they protest over an alleged crackdown on gay men in Chechnya outside the Russian Embassy in London on 2 June 2017. (Photo credit should read JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

Russia’s top documentary film festival has pulled a movie about a gay MMA fighter from Chechnya from its lineup after receiving a torrent of hate and “serious” threats over it.

The Moscow Times reported Artdocfest was set to air the 2020 film Silent Voice, which tells the story of a young MMA fighter named Khavaj who fled Chechnya after his sexuality was discovered. The film documents Khavaj’s first months after his escape to Belgium, his experiences of being gay in Chechnya and his attempts to build a new life.

 

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The newspaper reported that Artdocfest’s Moscow organisers said they had been “forced” to pull the film from their lineup after receiving threats of violence. Organisers told a separate newspaper that a man has asked the festival to remove the documentary because “people in Chechnya are dissatisfied”, according to The Moscow Times. The man said there would be “serious consequences” if the film was shown.

The film was also pulled from the St Petersburg Artdoctfest’s lineup after an “anti-gay” activist filed a complaint with Russia’s consumer protection watchdog, alleging the festival was promoting “LGBT values” among minors by airing the film.

The persecution of LGBT+ people in Chechnya has been a critical human rights issue over the past couple of years. Reports began to emerge in 2017 of a “gay purge” in Chechnya, involving imprisonment, abductions and torture against the LGBT+ community in the region.

Last month, Chechen authorities detained 20 people related to two gay torture victims who escaped to Russia in 2020.

Brothers Ismail Isayev and Salekh Magamadov, both gay, were tracked down by Russian security agents and forcibly returned to Chechnya, where they face up to 15 years in prison on terror-related offences. But activists say the charges against the brothers are completely fabricated.

The news came as the European Union put strict sanctions on Aiub Vakhaevich Kataev, a senior official at the Russian Internal Affairs Ministry in Chechnya, and Abuzaid Dzhandarovich Vismuradov, deputy prime minister of the region and commander of a special security unit.

EU officials said the sanctions – which include having their assets frozen and being subject to a travel ban within the EU – were placed on the two Russian officials because of their ties to the persecution of LGBT+ people in Chechnya’s gay purge.

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