Authorities in the Republic of Chechnya are rounding up gay men and sending them to prison camps where they face horrific torture and are held in inhumane conditions, according to reports from human rights organizations and an independent Russian newspaper.
The reports first surfaced in the newspaper Novaya Gazeta last week, which alleged that up to 100 men had been rounded up and sent to the camps, where at least three were killed by armed forces. The Chechen Republic is a federal subject of Russia, ruled by authoritarian Ramzan Kadyrov, a close ally of Vladimir Putin’s.
Chechen authorities denied the reports last week, claiming the story was impossible because, according to them, there are no gay men in Chechnya.
“You cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic,” Alvi Karimov, Kadyrov’s press secretary, said. “If such people existed in Chechnya, law enforcement would not have to worry about them since their own relatives would have sent them to where they could never return.”
The Russian LGBT Network, an LGBTQ rights group, collected testimonies from men who said they had been held in the camps recently. The testimonies detail interrogation and torture:
Young man from Grozny, gay. Few month ago, he moved to N (one Russian city). He wanted to reside there, but did not manage to get a job, and was going to return to Chechnya in the middle of March. He tried to reach his friend back in Chechnya, but failed. In a week, his friend contacted him and told him, that he had been just released. He was detained by some security officials on suspicion of homosexuality. In order to get the confession, they beat him with a hose and tortured with electricity. He reported that about 30 people were locked in the same room together with him. According to him, the security officials themselves stated that the order came from the leaders of the Republic. The detained were forced to share the contacts of other gay men. The more the person informed, the longer he was detained.
International watchdog organizations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch confirmed that the reports are in line with what they’re hearing from their sources.
“The information published by Novaya Gazeta is consistent with the reports Human Rights Watch recently received from numerous trusted sources, including sources on the ground,” HRW’s Russia Program Director, Tanya Lokshina, wrote in a blog post. “The number of sources and the consistency of the stories leaves us with no doubt that these devastating developments have indeed occurred.”
The LGBT Network filed complaints with Russia’s prosecutor-general, commissioner for human rights, and the Federal Investigative Committee, according to the BBC. They received no response.
Last week, the Kremlin responded to media reports about the camps, saying that law enforcement would investigate whether the reports are true, but given the track record of Russian law enforcement on LGBTQ rights, that seems like an unlikely proposition: Putin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov advised those purportedly being held and tortured to “file official complaints.”