That Russia is no safe haven for LGBT people isn’t news: Rights violations and abuse have long been reported, as the country’s officials make liberal use of the laws that forbid “gay propaganda” and the promotion of anything related to homosexuality. But the Chechen Republic—a federal subject of Russia where the autocratic rule of Vladimir Putin’s close ally Ramzan Kadyrov has established a reputation for the repeat violations of human rights—has taken intolerance a terrible step forward.
Reports of widespread persecution of homosexual citizens, including beatings, torture, and jailing them in concentration camps have emerged. According to an April 1 article in Novaya Gazeta (link in Russian), Chechnya’s only independent publication, several people living in Chechnya had been held in camps because of their actual or suspected sexual orientation. The claim was made based on human-rights activists’ reports, and confirmed with the publication’s sources within the administration.
The government has denied the allegations by sticking to the official messaging that there aren’t homosexual people in Chechnya. Commenting on the report, which he called “an absolute lie” Kadyrov’s spokesman Alvi Karimov said (link in Russian) that “it is impossible to detain and harass people we simply do not have in the country,” adding that “if there were any gay people in the region, they would have been dealt with by their own relatives.”
“In Chechnya,” said Karimov (link in Russian), “[men] lead a healthy lifestyle, play sports, and they have only one orientation, which is determined from the moment of the creation.”
The violence against homosexuals, says the Gazeta, had been sparked by an LGBT rights group’s request to hold a pride event in the Caucasian region, which prompted reactions in and around Chechnya, including the publication of videos encouraging the killing of gay citizens (link in Russian).
On April 4, based on the accounts of witnesses, the publication said that the government had ordered “preventative cleansing,” holding about 100 people in concentration camps. The coverage included the account of a man being “beaten with a hose and tortured with electro shock” while more than 30 men were being held in the same room. They were subject to violent interrogations with the aim of getting them to confess their homosexuality, as well as pushed to report other LGBT people.
While the Russian government’s office for human rights has not confirmed the report, LGBT rights organizations in Russia have condemned it, and are trying to evacuate gay citizens at a risk of persecution.