Russian prosecutors claim to have launched an investigation into reports of abduction and torture of gay men in Chechnya, according to a government-owned news agency, as international outcry about the violence in the Russian region continues.
Reports by Russian media and human rights groups claim at least 100 men have been detained and violently tortured “in connection with their non-traditional sexual orientation, or suspicion of such” in at least one secret prison in Chechnya, with three men reportedly dead.
The office Russia’s Prosecutor-General told Russian government-owned media outlet TASS they’d received requests from Russian human rights commissioner Tatyana Moskalkova and Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta to investigate the “alleged mass abductions” of gay men in the region.
“Currently, prosecutors from the Chechen Republic and the region’s law enforcement agencies have launched probes into the alleged abductions of people,” the Prosecutor-General’s Office said.
According to TASS’ report, Ms Moskalkova said she had asked Chechnya’s interior minister if they’d received any complaints about abductions of the men but the republic’s ministry responded that they hadn’t received any such complaints between January 1 and April 1.
But Human Rights Watch wrote online earlier this month they couldn’t reveal sources “for fear of compromising their security” in a climate of intense homophobia.
“The fear of devastating reprisal is so intense that we cannot even provide detail on specific cases as the victims could suffer even more as a result of the exposure,” the group said online.
“Filing an official complaint against local security officials is extremely dangerous, as retaliation by local authorities is practically inevitable.”
And since independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta broke the story, the outlet has faced ongoing threats from the country’s authorities. The journalist behind the story, Elena Milashina, has reportedly fled the country for her own safety.
“The reaction was very panicked and hysterical, but at the same time very threatening,” Ms Milashina told The Washington Post.
“We’ve covered Chechnya for many years, decades. This was the first time in our history that they used religion.
“Fifteen thousand people got together in the main mosque of Chechnya and announced a jihad against the staff of Novaya Gazeta.
“I will just live for a while in another country, still working on Chechnya.”
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov again denied the reports of the abduction and torture of the men despite survivors giving horrific details of the “secret prison” to several LGBTI and human rights groups.
Spokespeople for Kadyrov have previously denied there were any gay people in Chechnya at all, and in a post on social media at the weekend, he insisted human rights have undergone a “grandiose” improvement since he came to power.
He said international organisations’ reporting of the gay men is a “massive information attack.”
“Using the most unworthy methods, reality is distorted,” he wrote, according to a translation.
“Attempts are being made to blacken our society, lifestyle, traditions and customs.”
The Australian, American, British and European governments have previously condemned the persecution of the men.
On Monday, the USA’s United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley said the US “continues to be disturbed” by the reports.
“If true, this violation of human rights cannot be ignored – Chechen authorities must immediately investigate these allegations, hold anyone involved accountable, and take steps to prevent future abuses,” she said.
(Photo via Kremlin.ru)