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'Something Inside Me Died': An Ethnic Chechen Says He Was Tortured In Antigay 'Purge'

Dzhabrailov says he was beaten and tortured with electric shocks.
Dzhabrailov says he was beaten and tortured with electric shocks.

The beatings, Amin Dzhabrailov says, began immediately after he was pulled out of the trunk of the vehicle.

It was March 2017 when the then 25-year-old hairdresser says men in fatigues snatched him from the salon where he was working in Grozny, the capital of Russia’s southern Chechnya region.

His abductors drove him to the village of Tsotsi-Yurt, 40 kilometers east of Grozny, and stopped at a site near the Khulkhulau River where structures resembling warehouses stood, Dzhabrailov says. It was there, he says, that they pulled him out and pummeled him before leading him into a building, where more men were waiting.

“They said: ‘Oh, another faggot,’” Dzhabrailov told RFE/RL. “They were waiting for me. They were ready, and they pounced on me and started beating and beating. They took out PVC pipes and started to hit me with them.”

Dzhabrailov is one of dozens of gay men who claim they were abducted and tortured by authorities in Chechnya amid what rights groups call a brutal “purge” targeting sexual minorities in the Russian region ruled by Kremlin-backed strongman Ramzan Kadyrov.

During his captivity, he says, he was tortured with electric shocks, repeatedly beaten, and had the barrel of a gun shoved into his mouth. The details of his account echo those of other gay men who say they were swept up in the campaign.

The crackdown in early 2017 first came to light in April of that year in a report by the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, and numerous gay men subsequently gave interviews to RFE/RL and other news outlets detailing the alleged torture they suffered.

Dzhabrailov, however, is the first ethnic Chechen -- and one of only two alleged victims in total -- to publicly step forward with his story, which he gave to Time magazine in July.

Homosexuality is a deep taboo in predominantly Muslim Chechnya, and those who say they were tortured in the antigay crackdown have voiced fears of retribution against them or their relatives should they reveal their names.

Dzhabrailov said he believes there will be negative consequences for going public but that he felt compelled to speak out.

“I know that if I don’t do anything now and remain silent, then the younger generation will remain trapped in all of this,” Dzhabrailov, who fled to Canada and was granted political asylum there, told RFE/RL.

'We Don't Have Any Gays'

This month marks two years since the first alleged victim of the antigay campaign in Chechnya came forward to tell his story.

In October 2017, Maksim Lapunov, an ethnic Russian from Siberia who had lived in Chechnya for two years, gave a detailed account of the purported physical and psychological torture he was subjected to while being held captive for two weeks at a Grozny police facility.

Rights activists say the fact that Lapunov, who has since received political asylum in an EU country, is not an ethnic Chechen made it less dangerous for him to speak out.

But Russian authorities have refused to launch a criminal investigation in Lapunov’s case, even though Russian President Vladimir Putin’s own rights ombudswoman -- a largely symbolic position -- has said there is sufficient evidence for such a formal probe.

Before leaving Chechnya, Dzhabrailov worked as a hairdresser.
Before leaving Chechnya, Dzhabrailov worked as a hairdresser.

In an exclusive investigation in June, RFE/RL revealed that Lapunov had informed the ombudswoman, Tatyana Moskalkova, that he was held in the Grozny police facility at the same time as another Russian man who said he was there because he was gay.

That man, Andrei Kobyshev, went missing in Grozny around the time Lapunov says he was detained, and authorities launched a murder investigation that has stalled. RFE/RL analyzed Kobyshev’s mobile-phone records and found that his phone repeatedly connected with a cell tower near the Grozny police facility at the same time Lapunov says they were held captive there.

Moskalkova’s office later told RFE/RL that so far, no evidence has emerged supporting Lapunov’s claim that Chechen security forces were linked to Kobyshev’s disappearance.

Kadyrov, who leads a fearsome and fiercely loyal security apparatus in the republic, and other Chechen officials have denied that any campaign against gay men took place. Rights groups call the numerous accounts from alleged victims of the campaign extremely credible.

"We don't have any gays," Kadyrov told HBO in July 2017. "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."

'I Am A Good Person'

Dzhabrailov says he felt a duty to help support his family financially, and that he was succeeding in doing so with relatively well-paid work as a hairdresser at the Grozny salon.

“Everyone knew me. [Hairstyling] students even came to my salon on field trips. I was an exemplary role model,” he told RFE/RL.

He says he tried in vain to invoke this with his alleged torturers as they abused him.

“I yelled at them in prison: ‘I am a good person. Stop beating me.’ But even then, they didn’t stop,” Dzhabrailov said.

'Seeds Of Sodomy': Reports Of Deadly New Antigay Purge In Chechnya ​
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WATCH: 'Seeds Of Sodomy': Reports Of Deadly New Antigay Purge In Chechnya

The torture methods, he says, included electric shocks from a black box on which someone had written with macabre irony: “lie detector.” Dzhabrailov said they attached wires from the machine to his pinkies and switched it on.

“I was burning up. I was so hot. I begged them: ‘For God’s sake stop,” Dzhabrailov recalled. He says they told him that if he invoked God, they would “turn up the electricity.”

At one point, Dzhabrailov said, one of his captors put the barrel of a handgun in his mouth, and then forced him to stand against the wall, saying: “Now I’m going to shoot you” and “these are your final seconds.”

“After the incident with the handgun, something inside me died. Everything inside me stopped,” he said.

'Wash Away The Shame'

Dzhabrailov says that at any given time during his captivity, which lasted two weeks, there were between 20 and 30 men held at the facility, most of whom were not gay and were detained on drug charges. He claims they were packed into a tiny unheated room, went long stretches without food, and were only allowed to go to the bathroom before prayer five times a day.

He says he survived in part thanks to food brought by his mother, who after a week managed to find out where he was being held. Their captors did not allow the men to wash, Dzhabrailov said.

The security agents were constantly pressuring those suspected of being gay to reveal the names of other gay men, often scrolling through their mobile phones for potential targets.

Other alleged victims, including Lapunov, described the same methods used by Chechen authorities during their time in captivity.

Eventually, Dzhabrailov says, he and nearly 20 others were released into the hands of their relatives.

“They asked the relatives to wash away the shame. I don’t know how one can wash away the shame other than by killing someone,” Dzabrailov told RFE/RL.

Underground Railroad

He says his brothers were upset to discover that he is gay, but that they cared for him after bringing him home, where he showed them the extensive bruises and scars that remained from the beatings. When he decided he would leave Chechnya, “they all tried to stop me, saying that everything would be OK,” Dhzabrailov said.

“But I knew that it wouldn’t, especially for me,” he said.

Dhzabrailov ultimately fled to St. Petersburg, where the Russian rights group LGBT-Network helped him leave for Canada, whose government helped with a kind of underground railroad for gay Chechens seeking safety abroad.

Now based in Toronto, he spoke last month at a fundraiser for Rainbow Railroad, a Canadian NGO that helps LGBT people escape dangerous situations in countries throughout the world and worked with the Canadian government to spirit gay men out of Chechnya.

“Canada is a beautiful place. I’m living the best life I can possibly live here,” he said, adding that “for two years already I’ve been helping to save young men like me.”

Asked whether he intends to file a criminal complaint with Russian authorities over his alleged abduction and torture, Dzabrailov said: “I haven’t thought about that yet. You’re the first person to ask me that question.”

Written by RFE/RL’s Carl Schreck based on reporting by Sergei Khazov-Cassia, a correspondent for RFE/RL's Russian Service
  • 16x9 Image

    Sergei Khazov-Cassia

    Sergei Khazov-Cassia is an award-winning investigative journalist, author, and documentary filmmaker who has focused his reporting on embezzlement and corruption in Russia's political elite.

  • 16x9 Image

    Carl Schreck

    Carl Schreck is an award-winning investigative journalist who serves as RFE/RL's enterprise editor. He has covered Russia and the former Soviet Union for more than 20 years, including a decade in Moscow. He has led investigations into corruption, cronyism, and disinformation campaigns in Russia and Central Asia, as well as on poisoning attacks against Kremlin opponents and assassinations of Iranian exiles in the West. Schreck joined RFE/RL in 2014.

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