Issue:  Vol. 47 / No. 42 / 19 October 2017
 

Russian court halts gay journalist's deportation

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Novaya Gazeta gay journalist Khudoberdi Nurmatov, aka Ali Feruz, walked out of the Moscow City Court August 8 following the court's ruling that he cannot be deported until the European Court of Human Rights examines his appeal. Photo: Associated Press
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A gay Uzbekistani journalist won't have to leave Moscow, at least for now.

The Moscow City Court ruled August 8 that reporter Khudoberdi (sometimes spelled Hudoberdi) Nurmatov, who writes under the name Ali Feruz for Russia's leading independent newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, cannot be deported until the European Court of Human Rights examines his appeal against his deportation ruling.

Nurmatov, 30, was arrested on alleged violations of immigration laws and ordered to be deported to Uzbekistan August 1, reported Radio Free Europe. ECHR issued the order barring his transfer to Uzbekistan August 4.

Nurmatov is a Russian native whose mother and two siblings are Russian citizens, according to media reports. Nurmatov moved to Uzbekistan when he was 17 to study Islam. It was at that time that he accepted Uzbek citizenship.

Despite being a former Soviet republic, Uzbekistan doesn't allow dual citizenship, not even for Russian citizens, according to European Country of Origin Information Network.

A decade ago, Nurmatov was detained for two days and allegedly tortured by authorities who wanted him to become a spy in the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. He agreed, only to escape to Moscow, leaving his wife and two children behind.

Since then he has come out as gay and lived a relatively free life hanging out in Moscow's hip cafes with other journalists and artists and reporting on human rights abuses for the newspaper.

Fellow journalists at the newspaper and human rights experts feared that if Nurmatov were sent back to Uzbekistan, a majority-Muslim country, he would be imprisoned or even killed.

The BBC reported that before the ruling, he told the court that he faces a "long, slow death" if he is deported to Uzbekistan.

Nurmatov will be held in a center for foreigners while awaiting the resolution of his case, according to the Moscow City Court ruling.

 

Report: Chechen blueprint for systematic persecution of gays

Leaders of the Russian LGBT Network accuse Chechen authorities of carrying out mass persecutions based on individuals' perceived sexual orientation and have the evidence in a new report, " LGBT Persecution in the North Caucasus: A Report."

In the 31-page report, leaders of the LGBT Russian organization accused the Chechen Republic and the Russian Federation for its lack of interest in investigating "a crime against humanity" as defined under Article 7 of the Roman Statue of the International Criminal Court.

The accusation is a result of an investigation into claims of Chechen authorities detaining gay and bisexual men in at least four military facilities since February.

The report was prepared by the Russian LGBT Network based in St. Petersburg, in cooperation with Senior Reporter at Novaya Gazeta Elena. It was published July 31.

Leaders of the network provided first-hand accounts that anti-LGBT purges were supervised by high-ranking Chechen officials and therefore "orchestrated by the state authorities," according to the report.

Since news broke of the persecution of LGBT people in Chechnya, the republic's highest-ranking official, Ramzan Kadyrov, denied the detainment and torture of gays. He also claimed that there are no gays in Chechnya and then went on to state that if there are gays in Chechnya their relatives should kill them or they should be deported.

Kadyrov publicly reassured families that they wouldn't be prosecuted if they killed a family member for being gay.

While Chechen authorities want to rid their region of gays, they are actively preventing people from leaving by accusing them of being terrorists and taking legal action against people, according to the report.

The report also uncovered that authorities are starting to target queer women.

 

Brutal persecution

Novaya Gazeta first broke the news of the mass detainment of mostly gay men in Chechnya in April. The detainment and alleged torture of suspected gay and bisexual men came in three waves: December 2016 through February, March through May, and June to the present, the report stated.

Thirty-three victims who safely fled Chechnya and its neighboring republics with the help of the LGBT Russian Network during the past four months testified about their experiences.

For safety reasons, the individuals were only identified by false initials and details in the report.

The network provided necessities to the men it helped, such as travel costs, housing, food, and mental health and social work services, according to the report.

Those individuals who were detained and tortured confirmed that "regional authorities participated in multiple violence campaigns against LGBT people," according to the report. The peoples' testimonies corroborate that orders and implementation of those orders were directed by the highest officials of Chechnya.

The men reported that the blackmail and torture started five years ago, but that it wasn't on the mass scale that it has happened this year.

One man, identified as B.C. in the report, described a situation in 2012 when police raided his home soon after one of his gay friends received a phone call. When the police burst into his home, they beat him, arrested him, and threatened they would hurt him if he had any friends at his home.

"They told me it would be better for me to leave Chechnya so that they could never meet me in the district," said B.C., who didn't heed the warning. Several days later while having friends – both men and women – at his home, the police arrested the men, including him.

They were all assaulted outside of his house in front of the neighbors, called female names and beaten before taken to the police station, he told network representatives. His friends were released when their family members came to bail them out, but B.C. was given 24 hours to leave Chechnya.

He left and only returned to the region for some personal documents. He said that officers who claimed to be a part of the Criminal Investigation Department again confronted him. This time the officers videotaped him while they assaulted and interrogated him about his relationships with men and then blackmailed him, threatening to show the video to his family. They asked for $8,354 (500,000 rubles) for his release.

Prior to this year, authorities' assaults on LGBT people were randomly carried out rather than calculated. They didn't involve torture, and weren't hosted in military facilities, LGBT Russian leaders noted in the report. There also wasn't a campaign slogan, Purification of the Nation.

The gay men who spoke to the network described scenes of being taken randomly from their homes or workplaces without cause or ambushed by acquaintances they met in online chat rooms who lured them to police.

According to an individual identified as A.B., in February, a friend called him late at night asking for him to come over to his house. When A.B. arrived, he saw his friend with other people outside the house. Upon a closer look, he saw that some people were wearing camouflage uniforms. He immediately realized he had been set up.

"They said that I'm not a man, just some creature, that I am nothing," A.B. said. The others beat him up, humiliated him, and told him they were taking him away. "That I should rather be a terrorist than a faggot. That a dirty piece of cloth was worth more than me," he said in the report.

A.B. told network leaders that men were forced to watch videos of other men being tortured and inmates were encouraged to torture each other during his detainment.

In the video authorities showed A.B. he described a man they caught who allegedly had contacts with terrorists.

"They brought in a hollow tube and a barbed wire. They put a tube inside of ... his anus [and] then they put the barbed wire inside this tube. Then they took the tube out and they were slowly pulling the barbed wire out," said A.B., who agreed to collaborate with them when he saw a tube and barbwire in the room. "They enjoyed the torture."

The report found that Chechen police are starting to accuse suspected gay men of terrorism. Random searches for suspected terrorism is common in Chechnya and authorized. Some of the men told stories of how an interrogation about terrorism turned into an interrogation about homosexuality.

Those who are released to their families are subject to being killed by their family members in so-called honor killings, the report stated.

Since the spring more than 130 requested for assistance to evacuate the region have been fielded by the network's hotline that was set up in March, according to the report.

 

Little action being taken

Despite worldwide outcry and pressure little action has been done to change the situation for LGBT people in Chechnya.

Instead, Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is close to Kadyrov, only gave lip-service when he gave into international pressure to investigate mass detainment and torture of LGBT people in Chechnya, according to the report.

The network hasn't received any evidence or information about the Russian government's pre-investigation, according to the organization's leaders.

According to Human Rights Watch, Russian legislators recently introduced two new laws to further threaten Russian internet users' privacy and security to further control Russians' freedom of expression.

The United States, under President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, has not taken any action.

Only five countries – Canada, France, Germany, Lithuania, and an anonymous country – have stepped up and agreed to work with the network to host relocated victims from Chechnya and surrounding republics, reported the European Observer.

 

Pop videos for equality

Two pop videos, "Freedom" and "Madam," hope to spread the message of acceptance and equality.

Rainbow Riots' catchy single, "Freedom," mixes dancehall beats with a message that love will not stand down. It was released August 3.

Swedish artist and LGBT advocate Petter Wallenberg composed and directed the video that features LGBT activists dancing alongside Rainbow Riots band members.

Rainbow Riots band members hail from countries like Jamaica, Malawi, Uganda, and other countries where homosexuality is illegal, according to an interview with Wallenberg on the group's Facebook page.

Some of Rainbow Riots band members are Mista Majah P (Jamaica), Brayo Bryans (Uganda), Shivan (Uganda), Kowa Tigs (Uganda, Umlilo (South Africa), and Ivy B (Malawi). Other band members have chosen to remain anonymous due to threats in their home countries, according to the group's news release announcing the album.

"In the West, the rainbow flag has become a mere party symbol," Wallenberg said in the group's August 3 news release announcing the single. "We want to remind people that in most parts of the world there is war against being different. It's time to stand up for equal rights for everybody."

Wallenberg and the group received some harassment during filming in Uganda due to the bold rainbow colors, costumes, and makeup worn throughout the video, according to the release.

Legal technicalities have tripped up both sides of the battle against and for LGBT rights in Uganda. In 2014, Uganda's Constitutional Court struck down the Anti-Homosexuality Act 2014 months after it was signed into law by President Yoweri Museveni.

In June, a United States federal judge dismissed Sexual Minorities Uganda's case against evangelical pastor Scott Lively, despite ruling that Lively did violate international law by aiding and abetting crimes against humanity by demonizing LGBT Ugandans.

Ugandan LGBT activists continue keep watch for attempts to revive the anti-gay law by members of Uganda's Parliament.

Rainbow Riots' self-titled first album was released June 16. The first single from the album, "Equal Rights," is part of the United Nations' Global Goals campaign, and was released in May, according to the band's website.

Another video released this summer, "Madam," sets a fictional day-in-the-life of Pakistani transgender women Lucky Khan and Nirmal Chaudry to a pop song. While the tune may be catchy, the experience of their daily life is anything but happiness. The video follows the women as they step out into the world after they finish putting on their makeup. Everywhere they walk they receive glares from people. They are harassed by some men who steal one of the women's scarves. Even when they are working dancing at a bachelor party they are roughed up by the host and guests.

The singer and songwriter behind "Madam," Jimmy Khan, wanted to start a conversation, he told National Public Radio. At one point during the video a caption appears noting, it's "a reflection of how cruelly we as a society treat the transgender community."

Pakistani transgender activists approved of the video.

"There is a very strong message behind this video," Jannat Ali, who fights for transgender rights in Pakistan, told the media outlet. She appreciated how the video was well-rounded showing discrimination, harassment, and sadness for the disownment from family, but it also "shows they try to support each other [as if they were] like relatives, like sisters, like family."

Denmark-based Pakistani filmmaker and activist Saadat Munir, who curates the Aks International Minorities Festival, hopes it encourages transgender activists and Pakistan's parliament to support the two bills to protect transgender rights.

"That is what is needed – we want to create some kind of sympathy," he said.

The AIMF is an annual film and art event focused on sexual minorities that is hosted in Denmark, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom.

Pakistani transgender activists have made progress in one of the world's most populous Muslim countries. They've succeeded in being recognized by the government, receiving third gender identity cards and passports and have a task force formed by the Wafaqi Mohtasib, the national ombudsman. The task force is responsible for the two bills – the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act 2017 and the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Criminal Law Amendment Act 2017 – that are currently before parliament.

"Freedom" has received 19,876 views and "Madam" has received 9,506 views on YouTube. "Madam" has received 218,000 views on Facebook since its release.

Rainbow Riots' album is available on iTunes. All proceeds will be directed toward fighting against LGBT inequality in Uganda.

 

Got international LGBT news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at Skype: heather.cassell or oitwnews@gmail.com.

 

 

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