Welcome to Chechnya is now available to stream on BBC iPlayer
As someone who has spent my adult life fighting for LGBTQ equality, I watched the growing persecution of LGBTQ people in Russia with horror. The introduction of the 2013 ‘gay propaganda law’ a mere tool for state sanctioned oppression. As men, teenagers and woman found themselves subject to horrific treatment. With victims suffering humiliation, degradation and abuse at the hands of gangs who aimed to purify Russian society. Many of those victims mere teenagers who could be manipulated and threatened with ease. Their plight often caught on social media posts openly available on platforms that should have protected them. But these human rights abuses found an even greater evil in the hands of Ramzan Kadyrov. The Putin loving puppet leader of Chechnya, a state of ‘independent’ government directly controlled by the Kremlin. As stories beginning to emerge in 2017 of torture, murder and the social cleansing of LGBTQ people.
These stories finally find a voice in the hands of acclaimed documentary filmmaker David French. Using cutting edge facial editing software to protect those persecuted, as they share their stories. While in turn celebrating the bravery of the Russian LGBT activists who risked their own lives in helping individuals escape. Within a documentary that not only shines a light on the social cleansing at the heart of Putins Russia and Kadyrov’s Chechnya. But also the devastating fact that LGBTQ torture and persecution is far from being a footnote in history. As many countries and states continue to embrace ideologies and actions synonymous with Hitler’s third reich. Free from any global scrutiny in a world where countries build walls rather than dismantle them. So ‘Welcome to Chechnya’ a state where social cleansing is an open secret free from challenge.
David French opens his film with Isteev (an LGBT rights activist in Moscow) answering a desperate call from a young women in the Chechen capital Grozny. Her hidden sexuality recently outed by her uncle. Who is demanding sex as payment for his continued silence. Her father being a high-ranking official who would rather see his daughter dead than a lesbian. Isteev is more than aware that lesbians often disappear in Chechnya at the hands of their own family members. His concerns immediately leading to a plan to smuggle her out to a place of safety. While he and his colleagues explore the potential for asylum in other country. His role as part of the Moscow Community Center for LGBT+ Initiatives, already having secured the safety of dozens of LGBTQ people.
Director: David France