Russia’s justice minister has claimed officials can’t find any LGBT people in Chechnya after it was alleged they were being kidnapped, tortured and beaten by security forces.
Alexander Konovalov told United Nations representatives on Monday that Russia had undertaken an investigation after shocking allegations emerged last year.
A report in Novaya Gazeta, a Russian newspaper known for its outspoken criticism of political leaders, claimed members of the LGBT community were regularly targeted for their sexuality.
The Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, dismissed the allegations, insisting that there were no homosexuals in the southern Russian republic.
His spokesman told the Interfax news agency: “Even if such people existed in Chechnya, our law enforcement agencies would not need to bother with them, because their own relatives would simply send them to a place from which they would never return.”
Speaking before a working group of the UN’s Human Rights Council, Konovalov said officials had taken the allegations seriously and looked into them.
“The investigation showed that there were not any such incidents,” he said.
“There weren’t even representatives of LGBTI in Chechnya. We weren’t able to find anyone.
“Of course, what’s most important is to ensure full verification of all allegations of possible violations of human rights of the law of the Russian Federation.
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“And I’m sure that in that area that work is being done, just as there are investigations being done into crimes that have been committed.”
Canada, Germany, France and Belgium are among countries to have granted asylum to LGBT Chechens on the basis they faced persecution if they stayed.
Last month, Igor Kochetkov, the head of the Russian LGBT Network, told Novaya Gazeta his organisation had assisted 114 people from Chechnya who said they had been discriminated against.
LGBT groups claimed that at least 200 gay people were held in secret prisons where they were tortured and beaten. At least 26 were said to have been killed.
The claims sparked protests around the world as activists demanded a full investigation.
Chechnya, a mainly Muslim region bordering Georgia, is home to an estimated 1.4 million people, many of whom are deeply hostile towards LGBT people.
Marko, a Chechen in her early 20s, told the BBC last month she would never forget the day her family discovered she was gay.
She said: “They said to me: ‘Either we will kill you, or we will lock you up in a psychiatric ward and throw away the key. The only alternative is that you undergo an exorcism.'”
In 2013, Russia’s president Vladimir Putin signed off on anti-LGBT legislation known as the “gay propaganda law,” which bans children from being exposed to information deemed contrary to “traditional family values.”