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How London challenged 'gay concentration camps' in Chechnya

Last week hundreds of people protested at Russia's embassy in London against the reported torture of gay men in concentration camps in Chechnya.

In his own words, Steve Taylor from Pride in London explains why it's important to "stand up, make noise, and challenge what is happening".

Last week's protest outside the Russian Embassy in Notting Hill Credit: Pride in London

A week ago tomorrow, around a thousand people congregated outside the Russian Embassy in Notting Hill to protest about the treatment of gay men - and, presumably, other LGBT+ people - in the Russian republic of Chechnya.

Last week's protest outside the Russian Embassy in Notting Hill Credit: Pride in London

Reports had emerged over the previous two weeks of 100 gay men being arrested and imprisoned, and three killed. Then we heard of a 'concentration camp' being opened at which gay men were being systematically tortured, electrocuted, and forced to sit on bottles.

We organised the protest because we had to act and we had to speak out.

Last week's protest outside the Russian Embassy in Notting Hill Credit: Pride in London

The situation in Chechnya is complex, not least because of its semi-autonomy from the Russian regime. But the Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, was installed by Vladimir Putin, and there are clear indications that they are close.

Kadyrov's claim that 'there are no gay men in Chechnya' is ridiculous, but no less homophobic than legislation that Putin has supported and pushed through the Russian parliament in recent years.

Last week's protest outside the Russian Embassy in Notting Hill Credit: Pride in London

Twenty-four hours after the demonstration, The Guardian published harrowing accounts of events in Chechnya from survivors who have escaped, in many cases thanks to the brave efforts of activists from the Russian LGBT Network, who have been trying to get people out of the republic.

These testimonies included further details including beatings, mobile phone seizures so authorities can check them for details of other gay men, and set ups where captured gay men were forced to arrange meetings with other gay men so that more could be arrested. The situation could not be more serious.

Late last week, the newspaper that first exposed the atrocities in Chechnya, Novaya Gazeta, issued a statement in which they said that Kadyrov had accused them publicly of slander and said that they were 'the enemies of our faith and our homeland'. He went on to endorse calls for violence against their journalists, and many are now in hiding. First gay men, now journalists. Who next?

Foreign Office ministers have spoken out, as have UN officials and other European political leaders. Their words are laudable, and none of us would disagree with them.

But for too long we didn't speak out about what we would now call human rights abuses in Nazi Germany, and that led us to war. I'm not suggesting we need military action against Chechnya, but we do need to be speaking out, negotiating, and using every diplomatic channel available to challenge these abuses.

At last week's protest, Lord Alli quoted Martin Niemöller's famous poem. "First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak for me."

That embodies why we must speak out: it's an affront to our common humanity if we do not stand up, make noise, and challenge what is happening in Chechnya.

Last summer we rose up to commemorate what happened at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Let's speak out now before we have to commemorate LGBT+ genocide on our doorstep. If we have to do that, we have all failed.

Steve Taylor isDeputy Director of Community Engagement for Pride in London.