Last week, Yuri Guaiana, member of the ALDE Party Individual Members Steering Committee, was arrested in Moscow while standing up for LGBT+ rights. He and his colleagues who work at All Out wanted to deliver more than 2 million signatures against the anti-gay crackdown in Chechnya. Today, on International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT), Yuri wants to share his experience with us.
Dear Yuri, first and most important question: How are you?
I am fine and I would like to thank you, ALDE Party and the Steering Committee of ALDE Party Individual Members very much indeed for the amazing support and help. The outpouring solidarity from fellow liberals around Europe was awesome and I want to thank everybody. I hope the same energy can now be channelled towards the real issue: the awful violations of human rights in Chechnya.
What was the purpose of your trip to Russia and why now?
I was there to deliver more than 2 million signatures calling on the Prosecutor General of the Russian Republic to conduct a thorough investigation into the arrests, tortures, and killings of gay men in Chechnya and to bring to justice all those responsible.
Russian citizens, including LGBTI people, deserve to live in freedom under the rule of law as everybody else. Russian authorities must respect the international treaties on human rights signed by its representatives.
That’s why over 2 million people around the world, more than the whole population of Chechnya, joined the campaigns run by the Russian LGBT Network, global LGBT rights organisation All Out, global campaigning organisation Avaaz, and the group led by Igor with Change.org.
I believe that no person should have to sacrifice their family or freedom, safety or dignity, because of who they are or who they love – not in Chechnya, not in Russia, not anywhere else.
Tell us a bit about the situation there and how people react to violence?
At the beginning of April, Novaya Gazeta, Anna Politkovskaya’s newspaper, revealed that Chechen authorities were rounding up, torturing and in at least three cases, murdering Chechen residents suspected of being gay.
The New York Time used the word pogrom to describe the events in Chechnya and I believe this is exactly what it is. For the first time in recent history, there is violence against a human group orchestrated by the authorities.
In Chechnya, the practice of honour killing is still in place and therefore authorities can incite families to murder their own relatives to wash away the stain of homosexuality. The mechanism is terrifying: gay men are arrested and tortured to make them reveal other names of gay people.
If they survive the tortures, they are released and outed to their families so that they can be sent to a place of no return as pro-Kremlin Chechen leader, Ramzan A. Kadyrov, said. Russia is turning a blind eye to these events because Putin needs Kadyrov to keep the predominant Islamic region under control after two independent wars.
Human rights have no boundaries, that’s why we need to stop this immediately. We know what pogroms in the 19th century led to, this is something that must concern all liberal and all Europe.
We know that you were together with four other activists on this Trip. Who are they and did they also return safely back home?
Yes, I was there with Alexandra Aleksieva, Marina Dedales, Nikita Safronov and Valentina Dekhtiarenko. They are safe now, but we all face a court hearing on May 29th where the judge may sentence us to pay a fine and possible administrative detention.
I’m in Italy now, but they are still there. All Out, the organisation that organised the delivery together with the Russian LGBT network and Avaaz, will pay all our fines. They have already launched a fundraising campaign which can be found on All Out’s website.
Please make a gift to help pay for our fines and other emergency costs. Your donation today will also allow All Out to continue to campaign fearlessly with the Russian partners on the ground. Activists in Russia are heroes. Despite the ever-shrinking space for civil society in Russia, they managed to set up an emergency program to evacuate as many gay men as possible. But they can’t do that alone. Chechen gay man cannot work in any city in Russia because, if they do so, they may be found by their relatives or Kadyrov’s militia. That’s why liberals in a position of power should work to make visas procedures easier for the victims.
Did you feel fear or that your trip would last more than expected somehow? How did the police treat you all?
We planned the delivery meticulously and I trusted a lot the people I worked with, including the Steering Committee of ALDE Party Individual Members. Having said that, an element of tension was certainly there and I was prepared to be detained longer, but the Italian Consulate did an excellent job and we were all freed in less than 24 hours.
I’m particularly relieved that the Russian activists were freed before me. The police treated us well enough.
Would you do that again?
When human rights are at stake we need to intervene. Indeed, this is not a call for reckless action. Before going to a dangerous country, a thorough risk assessment needs to be carried out and the theory of change must be very strong. Moreover, I can’t stress enough how important is to work in close co-operation with partners. I went there only because our Russian partners agreed.
What is your message to the LGBTI community in Russia and elsewhere?
Today is the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia and we will keep up the fight for the human rights of LGBTI people until no person will have to sacrifice their family or freedom, safety or dignity, because of who they are or who they love.