• Demonstrators protest over the crackdown on gay men in Chechnya outside the Russian Embassy in London on June 2, 2017. ( (Photo credit should read JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images))
"He left with just the clothes on his back. He didn't even turn around for a final look."
By
Michaela Morgan

5 Jun 2017 - 1:51 PM  UPDATED 5 Jun 2017 - 1:52 PM

A 26-year-old gay man has spoken about the escalating violence against the LGBT+ community in Chechnya and the dangers he faced before he managed to escape to France.

The young man spoke to AFP on the condition of anonymity—using the pseudonym Azmad and wearing sunglasses while interviewed.

"At home, I didn't know calm and tranquillity," he says.

Azmad noted that it has always been difficult to be gay in Chechnya, but in the last few months, authorities began seizing phones and computers of suspected members of the LGBT+ community in the hope of finding incriminating photos. 

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“There is not a single concrete fact; there are no surnames.”

"If it becomes known, you are in danger, and so are those close to you. People are killed over rumours there.

"Gradually, gay people began to disappear," he adds. "It was systematic."

Novaya Gazeta first reported in April that over 100 gay men had been detained and tortured by Chechen authorities, with at least three feared dead.

"I escaped because I understood that I would not manage to get through it," Azmad says. "It was going to be obvious who I am."

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Azmad is one of the first Chechen refugees to be granted a French humanitarian visa, with help from an organisation called ‘Chechnya Emergency’ set up by film director Guillaume Mélanie

"He left with just the clothes on his back. He didn't even turn around for a final look," says Mélanie of Azmad.

"Even his mother does not know why he left or if he is still alive.”

Of his new life in France, Azmad says: "I am going to try to forget," and "become a normal man, that is, begin to live a normal life, a life that normal people live."