Despite numerous reports and a request from the State Department for an investigation, Chechyan leaders are still denying gay men have been detained and murdered in the region.
Their evidence? There are no gays in Chechnya.
“You cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic,” a spokesman for president Ramzan Kadyrov told Russian news agency Interfax.
Heda Saratova, the head of in Chechnya’s Human Rights Council, has also dismissed the claims that at least 100 men have been arrested, and three killed, saying she hadn’t received a single notification, “but if I did, I wouldn’t even consider it.”
“In our Chechen society, any person who respects our traditions and culture will hunt down this kind of person without any help from authorities,” she added. “They will do everything to make sure that this kind of person does not exist in our society.”
The U.S. State Department has called on the Russian government to conduct an independent and credible investigation into the alleged killings and mass arrests, and hold the perpetrators responsible.”
Human rights groups on the ground in the Muslim-majority republic report they are being contacted by LGBT people fearing for their lives. “They call us and say they’re scared, or their friends are missing, or they’ve managed to escape and they need help,” Svetlana Zaharava of the Russian LGBT Network told Vocativ.
One gay man was reportedly detained for a week on suspicion of homosexuality, and strapped to a homemade “electric chair.” He was also beaten with a hose to force him to divulge the names of other gay men.
Zaharava says her organization has little access to Chechnya because of the violent homophobia.
“Chechnya is a specific region and human rights don’t exist there,” said Zaharava. “It’s almost impossible to be an open LGBT person in Chechnya, that is why people are so stigmatized, and why the gay victims’ parents wouldn’t cooperate with law enforcement [in investigating the disappearances]. It’s because they’re ashamed.”
A spokesperson for Vladimir Putin said the Kremlin did not know how much reporting of the purge “corresponds to reality… but, of course, we will check.”