There is no truth to claims LGBT people are being persecuted in Chechnya, President Ramzan Kadyrov has said.
The pro-Putin leader told the BBC that “not one person” in Chechnya has committed human rights violations.
His comments come despite months of LGBT Chechens, their loved ones, journalists and diplomats from around the world reporting clear evidence of systemic abuse.
Chechnya was condemned by world leaders in 2017 after news of “gay concentration camps” in the republic reached the international press, with urgent questions called in the UK Parliament.
“That’s all an invention by foreign agents who are paid a few kopecks,” President Kadyrov said.
“So-called human rights activists make up all sorts of nonsense for money.”
It isn’t the first time Kadyrov has denied the persecution of gay men in his country.
Despite numerous testimonies – both from survivors and journalists – Kadyrov dismissed the reports as “nonsense” invented by “devils” and claims there are “no gays” in the state.
“If there were such people in Chechnya, the law-enforcement organs wouldn’t need to have anything to do with them because their relatives would send them somewhere from which there is no returning.”
Speaking to TV channel HBO last July, Mr Kadyrov went even further: “If there are any gays…Take them away from us. To purify our blood, if there are any, take them.”
A refugee to Germany who fled the republic after coming out as gay publicly was publicly shamed and forced to take back his comments on national television by Kadyrov.
Mover Eskarkhanov received death threats and was forced to apologise to the Chechen president after he told Time magazine that he is gay and had been tortured.
He told Time: “They tell me that a demon lives inside me. It’s getting worse here. Before somebody kills me, I want to tell my story to the world.”
Following the interview, authorities forced him to apologise on television, claiming his “coming out” was made under the influence of epilepsy medication that distorted his understanding of the world.
Chechens were told Mr Eskarkhanov is mentally ill and that he had been brainwashed by Westerners.
“They disgraced me before the Chechen people and the Chechen leader, I was framed,” he told Grozny TV.
“That’s why I apologise to the residents of Chechnya, the leadership of Chechnya, the Chechens living in the North Caucasus and Europe.”
Mr Eskarkhanov is now living as a refugee in Germany, having been forced out of his homeland due to the persecution of LGBT people.
“They made it clear that if I continue to talk, there would be problems,” he told Kavkazsky Uzel.
“They said that I must first think about my family.”
Another victim, Maxim Lyapunov, described being held for 12 days in a blood-soaked cell, beaten with sticks and humiliated by police in a shocking report.
The 30-year-old says he was grabbed by two men in the middle of the night and dragged into the back of car.
Despite reporting his lengthy ordeal to authorities, Mr Lapunov says there has been no investigation into what happened.
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Instead police forced him to name another man, interrogated and beat him.
“They burst in every 10 or 15 minutes shouting that I was gay and they would kill me,” he said, speaking at a small gathering in Moscow convened by human rights activists reported by the BBC.
“Then they beat me with a stick for a long time: in the legs, ribs, buttocks and back. When I started to fall, they pulled me up and carried on,” he said quietly.
“Every day they assured me they would kill me, and told me how.”
Mr Lapunov says he was barely able to walk by the time police let him go.
“I could barely crawl when I left,” he told the human rights gathering, adding that the groans and screams of other detainees continue to give him nightmares.
“It should not be like this. We are all people. We all have rights,” he said.
“If those rights can be violated [in Chechnya], it could happen in any region. And no-one knows whose son or daughter will be next.”
The Russian LGBT Network has published reports of numerous testimonies from people who have experienced persecution and abuse in Chechnya.