Exorcisms and Concentration Camps: How Chechnya Muzzles the LGBTQ+
Aminat Lorsanova, a 22-year-old woman who grew up in Chechnya, a republic in southeastern Russia, recently fled Russia after years of abuse at the hands of her family, religious leaders and supposed psychiatrists. She was exorcised thrice and sent to a psychiatric clinic soon after where she was administered a series of confidential medications that caused her to lose consciousness regularly. The reason for her abuse was her sexuality. She now is seeking a lawsuit against her parents and two psychiatric clinics in Grozny, Chechnya’s capital, where she was held.
Lorsanova came out to her family as bisexual in 2018 and was met with immediate rejection by her conservative, Muslim family. Her abuse started soon after when she refused to comply with her father’s wishes to seek conversion measures. She has detailed the first instances of the attempted conversion performed by her father, which included him tying her hands, legs and mouth with adhesive tape so that he could inject her with Aminazin – an antipsychotic drug used in some countries to treat disorders such as schizophrenia. She was subjected to these injections six times that year.
Soon after, a mullah performed a total of three exorcisms on her, all overseen by her parents, which included “beating me in the solar plexus with a thin rod for an hour, yelling the Koran into my ear”. Exorcisms are a common form of conversion therapy in the Chechen Republic and are viewed as a form of traditional medicine practised by clinics including the Islamic Medical Centre in Grozny. These exorcisms are so common that they are advertised on television within the region. In addition to these exorcisms, Lorsanova has admitted to a psychiatric clinic run by Dr Igor Boyev where she was given prolonged drop infusions of unknown medications.
After five attempts of escaping from the Chechen Republic, she finally succeeded with the aid of an advocacy group, the Russian LGBT Network, which assists the escape of LGBTQ+ refugees. She is one of few victims of violence targeted at the LGBTQ+ community in Chechnya who have been able to come forward with their story. Women especially struggle to escape, due to how strictly they are controlled by the men in their family. They are not able to acquire a passport unless a male relative is present during the process. Lorsanova herself described the position of women in Chechen society as “somewhere between an inanimate object and an animal”.
Many people living in more liberal countries struggle to believe such violence still occurs, but in regions such as Chechnya where society is controlled by a strictly conservative, religious mindset, this is beyond frequent. It is the norm. In 2017, news of an ‘anti-gay purge’ in Chechnya started to surface internationally. Many gay men were found dead and many more had disappeared, allegedly taken by law enforcement to concentration camps specifically for the torture of those in the LGBTQ+ community. Ramzan Kadyrov, head of the Chechen Republic, has denied that any such purge exists, going as far as to state that homosexuality is not present in Chechnya, despite in the past having labelled people of the LGBTQ+ community as ‘devils’. He is also on personal terms with the psychiatrist running the Islamic Medical Centre, who practices the same conversion treatments Lorsanova was subjected to.
Now that COVID-19 has caused severe restrictions in travel, it has become even harder for LGBTQ+ refugees to leave the region in which they have been tortured, silenced and dehumanised. They continue to be afraid for their lives. One of the luckier ones is “Sasha”, a transgender male whose real name is anonymous for his safety. He managed to escape Russia last year, hoping to flee into a European country, but COVID-19 has put a hold on a response to his asylum application.
With Pride Month now over, it is important to remember stories such as that of Lorsanova. When most publicity is given to the progression of LGBTQ+ rights in countries such as the UK, USA and Canada, it is easy to forget why Pride is still so important. In fact, those not part of the LGBTQ+ community often asks this question. However, we must not let the large presence of these countries cloud the 70 remainings which still criminalise homosexuality. Millions of members of the LGBTQ+ community are still being oppressed and abused, with no support group or means of escape. These stories equally deserve a large platform if we are to hold these regions accountable and apply enough pressure to bring about a global change in LGBTQ+ rights.
Authored By: Isabel Ashton