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We Exist: Stonewall and Amnesty protest at Russian Embassy

  • More than 177,000-signature petition taken to Russian Embassy

  • Protesters in ‘We Exist’ T-shirts leave flowers on a Pride flag at the gates

  • Stonewall founders Sir Ian McKellen and Lord Michael Cashman join protest

Stonewall UK and Amnesty International UK staged a defiant ‘We Exist’ protest outside the Russian Embassy in London on Friday (2 June). 

The petition calls for Russian authorities to fully investigate disturbing reports of a crackdown on LGBT people in Chechnya.

In April, credible sources in Russia reported that over 100 men believed to be gay or bi and been abducted, tortured or killed in the southern Russian republic of Chechnya.

It is believed to be part of a coordinated campaign against the LGBT community. 

Despite widespread international alarm at the reports, the Chechen and Russian authorities initially reacted with denials. 

A spokesman for the head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov even denied that LGBT people exist in Chechnya, saying ‘nobody can detain or harass anyone who is simply not present in the republic’. 

In response, activists wearing black ‘We Exist’ t-shirts gathered outside the Russian Embassy carrying placards with the messages ‘Stop the Chechnya crackdown’ and ‘Love is a human right’. 

A giant rainbow flag was laid on the pavement outside the embassy and activists laid rainbow flowers to symbolise solidarity with the victims of the Chechen crisis. 

The event was organised by Stonewall and Amnesty International UK, and was part of an international day of action to highlight the issue with demonstrations taking place in Canada, Finland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the Ukraine. 

Activists in Scotland also staged a ‘We Exist” protest outside the Russian Consulate in central Edinburgh. 

Russian authorities have reportedly now opened a preliminary investigation into the case but activists are calling on them to proceed to a full-blown criminal investigation, and to take all necessary steps to ensure the safety of individuals who may be at risk in Chechnya.

Ruth Hunt, Stonewall’s Chief Executive, said:

‘The horror in Chechnya has rocked the international LGBT community and we’ve all felt an urgent need to do something. 

‘We’re here today on behalf of all the men who are being persecuted, and to show the Russian authorities that LGBT people exist everywhere. 

'Since the news broke, there has been nothing to indicate that the situation has improved or that it’s being taken seriously.

'We know from working closely with the groups affected that the most powerful action we can take is to continue to shine a spotlight on this atrocity. The international LGBT community cannot and will not be silenced. We must have an investigation and we must have justice for the victims.’

Kate Allen, Amnesty International UK’s Director, said:

‘Russia has become increasingly hostile for gay, bi, lesbian and trans people, and this truly shocking crackdown in Chechnya has taken things to a frightening new level.

'Instead of brushing it aside, the authorities in both Chechnya and Moscow should be fully investigating this utterly appalling case and ensuring that the perpetrators are brought to justice.

'Perhaps the Russian authorities will drop their ludicrous claim that gay people in Chechnya don’t exist when they see the crowds outside Russian embassies around the world.’