A Russian official has said that one of the buildings that human rights groups say is a “secret prison” for gay men is just a storeroom.
For a month, Chechnya has denied claims by independent Russian media that at least 100 men have been detained and violently tortured – several to death – because of their homosexuality in “secret prisons” in the region.
According to the Novaya Gazeta newspaper, a former military installation located in the town of Argun is one of the prisons.
But Dmitry Alushkin, the press attache at the Russian embassy in Israel, told Israeli English-language newspaper Ha’artez it’s just “a storeroom” and the allegations are merely “a propaganda campaign against Russia.”
“Authorized official government bodies of the Russian Federation, in cooperation with the government of the Chechen Republic, investigated the claims made by journalist Elena Milashina in … the Novaya Gazeta newspaper and in other Russian media outlets,” he wrote.
“In the building — which in the past belonged to the military government (address: 99B Kadyrov Street, in the city of Argun) and called in the articles a ‘secret prison’ — is a storeroom, while a parking lot is located on the nearby space.
“There are no victims of persecution, threats or violence. Neither law enforcement authorities nor the [UN] Human Rights Council… have received complaints on this matter.”
He alleges less than a week after the newspaper published its first report, public figures, journalists and activists traveled to Argun to investigate for themselves.
“There, on the spot, [they] were convinced of the falseness of the claims of the existence of the alleged ‘secret prison,’” he said, adding people should rely “on objective and reliable data, not on rumors and speculation, to analyze the political developments in our country.”
Human Rights Watch LGBT researcher Kyle Knight said last month local officials “openly approve of these killings” and Russia “turns a blind eye” to the brutal campaign.
He said authorities’ advice to victims to report the violence “is not only tone deaf and cynical, but reveals the lack of recourse available to victims in Chechnya.”
“Without concrete, effective security guarantees, victims and witnesses cannot come forward, and there is no chance that any worthwhile investigation would take place. It should be a call to action for the international community,” he said.
He said gay Chechens who survived the prisons and were released to their families sadly risked more persecution and abuse instead of sanctuary.
“LGBT people are in danger of being both attacked by the authorities and victims of ‘honour killings’ by their own relatives – a vile, lawless practice against those who supposedly tarnish family honour,” he said.
One local group, the Russian LGBT Network, said earlier this month they’d rescued 40 men from further violence.
This Friday (May 19), a candlelight vigil is planned for the Sunshine Coast to raise money for Rainbow Railroad, a Canadian charity also helping victims. A vigil will also be held in Melbourne’s Federation Square on Tuesday night (May 16).