International figures have urged the Russian government to intervene over reports that authorities in Chechnya are ‘purging’ the gay community.
Early reports emerged last week that gay people are being targeted in the region, which is part of Russia but has substantial autonomy.
Russian newspapers and human rights groups report that more than 100 gay men have been detained “in connection with their non-traditional sexual orientation, or suspicion of such” as part of a purge. Several people were also reportedly feared dead following violent raids.
In a chilling response, a Chechen government spokesperson denied that there are any gay people to detain, insisting that “you can’t detain and harass someone who doesn’t exist in the republic”. The Kremlin denied any knowledge of a purge.
This week, foreign ministers from the US, UK and the European Union have all urged Russia to urgently intervene.
A statement from the US State Department said: “We are aware of troubling reports that local authorities in the Republic of Chechnya have arrested or detained more than 100 men, as well as reports that three of those detained were killed.
“We condemn violence against any individuals based on their sexual orientation or any other basis. We urge the Russian government to conduct an independent and credible investigation into the alleged killings and mass arrests, and hold the perpetrators responsible. We were likewise deeply disturbed by local authorities statements that apparently condone and even incite violence against LGBTI persons.
“We are very concerned by the widespread discrimination and violence against LGBTI persons in Russia or any society. We call on the Russian government to protect all people from discrimination and violence, and allow the free exercise of the freedoms of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and religion or belief.”
President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani said: “Appalling reports of gay men murdered in Chechnya. Perpetrators must be prosecuted.”
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The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office also spoke out.
A statement said: “We are very concerned by reports of mass arrests of individuals in Chechnya due to their perceived or actual sexual orientation. We condemn any and all persecution.
“The human rights situation for LGBT people in Russia has deteriorated significantly in recent years and we have voiced our serious concern over these developments with Russian authorities at all levels.”
The international concerns come after Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group both cited on-the-ground sources that appear to confirm gay men have been targeted in raids.
In its report, HRW confirmed: “The information published by Novaya Gazeta is consistent with the reports Human Rights Watch recently received from numerous trusted sources, including sources on the ground.
“The number of sources and the consistency of the stories leaves us with no doubt that these devastating developments have indeed occurred.”
Ekaterina L. Sokiryanskaya, Russia project coordinator for the International Crisis Group, told the New Tork Times: “I got numerous, numerous signals… it came from too many sources not to be true.”
“Even delivering the information is very difficult… they are just small islands, isolated.”
According to HRW, LGBT Network in Russia opened a special hotline to provide emergency support to those who find themselves in immediate danger.