Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov on Wednesday once again denied reports that more than 100 gay men have been arrested in the semi-autonomous Russian republic.
Kadyrov told Russian President Vladimir Putin during a meeting that Vesti, a Russian television station, broadcast that “even talking about this is uncomfortable.”
Novaya Gazeta, an independent Russian newspaper, earlier this month reported Chechen authorities have arrested more than 100 gay men since the end of February.
Men who have recently spoken to CNN and the BBC have said authorities beat them and tortured them with electric shocks while in custody. Novaya Gazeta has also reported that at least three of the men who were arrested later died.
Novaya Gazeta earlier this month said Chechen authorities have sent gay men to secret prisons that have been described as “concentration camps.” The Russian LGBT Network, a St. Petersburg-based advocacy group that has begun to evacuate gay men from Chechnya, confirmed these reports to the Washington Blade.
Grindr and All Out, a global LGBT advocacy group, are working with the Russian LGBT Network to assist them. A Novaya Gazeta reporter who broke the story has gone into hiding after receiving death threats.
“Such unconfirmed facts about the republic appear two-three times a year,” Kadyrov told Putin.
Putin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov on Thursday once again said the Kremlin cannot confirm the reports from Chechnya.
“We are talking about some anonymous people, about phantom complaints,” he said, according to RT, a television station the Russian government owns.
Svetlana Zakharova of the Russian LGBT Network told the Blade on Thursday in an email that her organization has “already evacuated people” from Chechnya “who witnessed kidnappings, torture and killings.” She said the Russian LGBT Network is preparing to release a “full report about the situation in Chechnya.”
“It is just impossible to fake such a situation,” Zakharova told the Blade. “We will insist on a proper investigation.”
Trump, Tillerson remain silent on Chechnya
Chechnya is a predominantly Muslim and semi-autonomous Russian republic in the North Caucasus with a population of roughly 1.27 million people. It borders the country of Georgia, the semi-autonomous Russian republics of Dagestan, Ingushetia, North Ossetia-Alania and Stavropol Krai in Russia proper.
Chechnya and other semi-autonomous Russian republics and regions have their own legislative bodies and law enforcement officials. Kadyrov, a leader in the Chechen independence movement who is now a close Putin ally, became president in 2007.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley on Monday said the U.S. remains “disturbed” by the arrests of gay Chechen men and urged authorities to investigate allegations of abuse and other human rights violations. Former Vice President Joe Biden, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland and others have also publicly condemned the arrests and urged Chechen and Russian authorities to investigate them.
Kadyrov earlier this month described the international criticism as “attempts” that “are being made to blacken our society, lifestyle, traditions and customs.” His spokesperson told a Russian government news agency it is “impossible to prosecute those who are not in the republic.”
“If such people existed in Chechnya, law enforcement would not have to worry about them, as their own relatives would have sent them to where they could never return,” he added.
President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — who met with Putin in Moscow on April 12 — have yet to publicly comment on the arrests and the secret prisons in which gay men are reportedly being held.