The New York Times on Saturday published a disturbing report confirmed by a leading Russian opposition newspaper and several human rights activists: The Chechen authorities are actively arresting and killing gay men.
The men were detained “in connection with their nontraditional sexual orientation, or suspicion of such,” reported the newspaper, Novaya Gazeta.
The disturbing report, which cited government and police sources, follows a week of reports that dozens of gay men between the ages of 16 and 50 have been mysteriously disappearing off the streets of the Russian republic, the Times reports.
A spokesman for Chechnya’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, denied the report in a statement to Interfax on Saturday, calling the article “absolute lies and disinformation.”
“You cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic,” said the spokesman, Alvi Karimov.
“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,” Mr. Karimov said.
The Times claims that the crackdown began after a Russian gay rights group, GayRussia.ru, applied for permits to stage gay pride parades in Russia’s predominantly Muslim North Caucasus region, of which Chechnya is a part.
The group had expected to collect the inevitable permit denials, in order to build a case about gay rights and freedom of assembly with the European Court of Human Rights, in Strasbourg, France.
What happened instead was that “the command was given for a ‘prophylactic sweep’ and it went as far as real murders,” Novaya Gazeta reported.
Chechen authorities set to “finding and arresting closeted gay men, partly by posing as men looking for dates on social networking sites.”
“Of course, none of these people in any way demonstrated their sexual orientation publicly — in the Caucasus, this is equal to a death sentence,” the newspaper wrote of those detained in the sweep.
Men already detained are said to include leading religious figures as well as two well-known Chechen TV personalities.
Gay men have begun deleting their social media accounts, and in some cases, even fleeing the region, as news of the purge spreads.
“I got numerous, numerous signals,” about the sweep of gay men, said Ekaterina L. Sokiryanskaya,, Russia project coordinator for the International Crisis Group, and an authority on the North Caucasus. “It came from too many sources not to be true.”
The Times adds:
The newspaper published contact information to aid men wanting to leave Chechnya for relatively more tolerant parts of Russia. But reaching communities of closeted gay men in the remote mountain region poses challenges.
“Even delivering the information is very difficult,” Ms. Sokiryanskaya, who is familiar with the aid effort, said. “They are just small islands, isolated.”