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“People were left to hang in handcuffs 24 hours a day”: Dagestan woman committed to underground “LGBT and atheism rehab”

Dagestan resident Elina Ukhmanova, who had confessed her bisexuality and atheism to her parents, was kidnapped at their request and taken to a rehabilitation center to be treated for her “non-traditional inclinations.” The organization positions itself as a center for alcohol and drug addicts, but there was also a place for Elina, who was inculcated with the belief that she was also an addict. The girl was forced to write “mantras” insulting her and ridiculing her sexual orientation, but the others were less fortunate – they were tortured. The “rehabilitation center” itself did not legally exist. After returning to her parents, the girl managed to steal her passport and escape. She recounted to The Insider what she had to go thorough after she confessed to her parents.

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How I got into rehab

“Since my childhood I had problems with my family. I was often beaten, forced to perform namaz and subjected to physical and psychological violence, they did not let me out of the house. I could only go to school and that was it. I couldn't even go out to the store. My parents often argued and sometimes fought. My mother would beat me up because of little blunders – when I failed to wash the dishes or make the bed, or come home on time, or failed to do namaz. My father did not use much violence. I only remember him beating me with a belt a couple of times when I was a kid. And when I came back from the rehabilitation center, he also beat me up a couple of times. My mother did most of the beating.

Since a certain age I was aware of myself as a bisexual person. I decided I needed to leave home, as there could be problems with that. At the age of 17 I contacted the LGBT community Network, but since I was a minor, they could not help me. I decided to wait until I joined the university and then get in touch with the organization again during the New Year holidays. But when I got in, I met other members of the LGBT community, other individuals who had also run away from home. And they were living peacefully in Makhachkala. I decided that I could do it, too, and resolved to wait until the summer.

In the summer, before the vacations started, I texted my mom that I wasn't coming home because I knew they wouldn't accept me. After that I blocked her and changed my number. At that point I had a boyfriend and I told him everything. We went to the neighboring town, Kaspiysk, and spent two days there. When we left, a friend wrote me. At that point my parents were already looking for me, my friend texted me a police officer's number and said: “He seems okay. You can talk to him.” I agreed, I had never dealt with policemen before. He was quite polite. He said, “I understand you have problems. I'm sitting by myself right now, minding my own business. My wife is sick, I need to bring her medicine. Can't you come down to the department, just write a receipt saying you left home voluntarily, and we'll let you go.”

I decided it was okay. My boyfriend and I drove to the police department in Kaspiysk and I was told I had to wait for the police officer to arrive. I waited for 40-45 minutes. A car pulled up, two men got out, picked me up and took me to Makhachkala, to the Sovetsky Police Department. They said that the receipt had to be written at the place from where I had started. We entered the Sovetsky Police Department, went up to the second floor. My boyfriend and I were sent to different rooms, and they just gave me back to my parents. I didn't want to go back to them. I asked the police not to give me back to them, but they did. I stayed at home for a week. Twice they took me to undergo a ritual for “jinn exorcism,” but the theologians said that everything was normal, my behavior was allegedly influenced by my phone and my entourage, and there were no jinn in me.

My parents wanted to marry me off to my boyfriend, because I had left with him, and marriage is necessary, because “people might get the wrong idea.” That was the only reason they didn't take my phone away from me. A week later I tried to leave home again, and I succeeded. This time I stayed away from home in Makhachkala for a month. I found a job, rented a room, and was already pondering renting an apartment.

Twice they took me to undergo a ritual for “jinn exorcism,” but the theologians said that everything was normal, my behavior was allegedly influenced by my phone and my entourage, and there were no jinn in me

On July 23, 2021, I was at a friend's house. It was afternoon, he had gone to work. He only had one key, so he said: “I'm going to go to work now, close the door, you don't have to go anywhere, and I'll be back.” He left, and my boyfriend started calling me. He asked me where I was at, if I could go out now. I said: “No, I'm very tired. I'm at a friend's house right now.” He knew where it was. About 10-15 minutes later my friend started texting me saying he was getting calls from police officers. They said that they knew I was at his place and that he had the keys and asked him to come down to open the door. He arrived, went into the apartment, followed by two men. They were recording everything on camera. They showed their IDs and said they were police officers and that I should go with them. I went out and they put me in a black Priora without license plates. I asked them where we were going. They said, “You'll see when you get there.”

We didn't drive very far and ended up in the yard of a private three-story house. They took me inside the house. All the windows and doors were barred. It was a guardhouse, combined with a living room. I sat down in a chair, they sat across from me and said, “Now you're in a rehabilitation center for drug addicts and alcoholics. We've been approached by your parents, they asked us to help find you.” I asked them: “How is that possible? I'm not an addict. I've never done drugs, I'm not addicted to alcohol, I'm not addicted to gambling.” They said, “Your parents reached out to us, and we've just found you. Now you're going to stay here.” The organization was called Alliance Recovery.

In addition, they said they had also run away from home, they had been like that since they were kids and eventually started using drugs. So, I was an addict too, I just hadn't used yet. I was just like them. I spent four months there and constantly saw “rehabilitees” being beaten and tortured for their slipups. But I was lucky, they didn't do anything like that to me. At most they made me write a text all night long: “I am an irresponsible, lazy junkie who doesn't care about her life and many other things, stuck in her old ways and unwilling to change anything in her life. If I go on living like this, I will surely die in a ditch somewhere.” It had to be written at least 100 times, 300 on the average. For a serious blunder, they could order me to write it 500 times. The rest of the inhabitants were treated much harsher. I was an 18-year-old girl, a friend of their friends, and they were more lenient towards me. Others were beaten up, forced to do push-ups or sit-ups, left for 24 hours handcuffed to railings with their toes hardly touching the floor, and so on.

The others were beaten up, forced to do push-ups or sit-ups, left for 24 hours handcuffed to railings with their toes hardly touching the floor, and so on

While I was in the rehabilitation center, I was not allowed to communicate with my parents. During all this time I wasn't allowed to meet with them or talk to them on the phone. My parents themselves asked Mohammed Shapiev, the director of the center, to put them in touch with me, but he wouldn't let them. He said that it would complicate the situation, that everything was going well for me but if I started thinking about my relatives or talking to them and everything would be bad again. And none of us “rehabilitees” were allowed to see or talk to our relatives. They didn't say anything about bisexuality at the rehab. Only the director, upon my admission to the rehab: “Aren't you ashamed of yourself? I looked at your subscriptions, you're subscribed to LGBT communities. It's your friends, the hipsters, who are to blame. Why are you doing this?” To be honest, they didn't care about the “rehabilitees.” They didn't really care about them. They made me say I was an “addict.” But once, when two guys got into a fight, they handcuffed them to a tree. One of them stayed like that all night.

How I managed to escape

I stayed in the rehab for four months, then my parents took me home. At first everything was normal, but then conflicts started again, because my parents saw I had not become religious and had not changed. I was at home from November 23rd until August 13th. I had no phone and no way to contact anyone. For the last three or four months I told myself every day: “Today I'm going to run away, today I'm going to run away.” And every time I dallied. It was complicated by the fact that my passport had been hidden from me. The week before I ran away, I had to search the whole house while my parents were at work, and I found it.

I had secretly packed my clothes months in advance, so that my parents couldn't see them and so that I could quickly put them in my backpack. Everything was complicated by the fact that I was never alone in my room, my sister lived with me. But it was impossible to postpone the escape anymore. I found out that my parents decided to send me to an Islamic center in Chechnya, and I knew I wouldn't be able to get out of that place. September was approaching, and I knew I had to hurry, it was time to act. One evening I stole my passport and replaced it with my sister's. At four in the morning, while everyone was asleep, I packed my things and left.

I found out that my parents decided to send me to an Islamic center in Chechnya, and I knew I wouldn't be able to get out of that place. It was time to act

My sisters and brother stayed at home. They are totally supportive of my parents, but I still love them very much. I would totally like to get in touch with them, but I understand it wouldn't be safe because they would certainly tell my parents. So, I don't think I'm likely to be in touch with them. I'm not going back home. Even if my parents apologize, accept me, there are still my cousins, uncles, aunts who won't support this.

My parents can't contact me directly because they don't know my number. They contacted the human rights activist Svetlana Anokhina and wrote her that nothing bad had in fact happened, everything had been fine and they had never committed me to the rehab. My parents never explained to me why they put me in the rehab. They said they didn't know what to do with me and my behavior and orientation. My other relatives also knew I am bisexual. They were afraid other people could find out about it.

Right now, I am relatively safe. I'm trying to find my place in life. I adored physics, mathematics and astronomy, I was very interested in science. I had many hobbies and interests, but after rehab, to be honest, I felt I was lost. I lost interest in everything. Maybe in the future I will be able to do science again and study to be a physicist.”

A rehab that doesn't exist

The organization Alliance Recovery does exist. More precisely, it used to exist - the website stopped working right after the report on Elina was published in the media, but it is still accessible via the web archive.

The website says the rehab had a license, number LO-05-01-001095. A license with this number was issued to Republican Narcological Dispensary, a state budgetary institution in the Republic of Dagestan. However, that republican organization has its own live website. No connection can be traced via public sources between it and the one where Elina was held. The state organization itself said they “cooperated” with various organizations but had difficulty answering whether it had been connected with the torture “rehabilitation center.” “We have several organizational contracts. But we haven't issued any licenses to anyone,” the state organization told The Insider.

Magomedshapi Gaziyev was listed as the director of Alliance Recovery on the website, but according to the Spark database he has only a single company registered to his name, ZIMA-LETO SERVICE LLC, its main type of activity stated as “Performance of electrical installation work.”

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