Gay men arrested in a ‘purge’ in the Russian region of Chechnya are being held in concentration camp-style prisons, reports have alleged.
Early reports emerged earlier this month 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.
But reports have since emerged that the men arrested are being kept in horrific concentration camp prisons, where violent abuse and torture is common.
Based on interviews with eyewitnesses and survivors, Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reports that a secret prison has been set up in the town of Argun to detain the men arrested in the purge.
One man who was released from the camp told the newspaper that he was subjected to violent “interrogations” at the camp, as Chechen officials attempted to get him to confess the names and locations of more gay men.
The officials also seized his mobile phone, targeting his network of contacts regardless of whether they were gay or not.
The camp was reportedly set up by Chechen forces in a former military headquarters in the town.
The newspaper reports allegations that the Speaker of the Parliament of Chechnya was among officials to visit the site, though the claims have not been substantiated.
The detainees face electric shock torture and violent beatings, while some of them have been held to ransom and used to extort their families.
The Russian LGBT Network, which is running a support line for men fleeing the region, has confirmed the reports.
LGBT activist Svetlana Zakharova said: “Gay people have been detained and rounded up and we are working to evacuate people from the camps and some have now left the region.
“Those who have escaped said they are detained in the same room and people are kept altogether, around 30 or 40. They are tortured with electric currents and heavily beaten, sometimes to death.”
Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch wrote: “For several weeks now, a brutal campaign against LGBT people has been sweeping through Chechnya.
She continued: “Law enforcement and security agency officials under control of the ruthless head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, have rounded up dozens of men on suspicion of being gay, torturing and humiliating the victims.
“Some of the men have forcibly disappeared. Others were returned to their families barely alive from beatings. At least three men apparently have died since this brutal campaign began.”
She added: “These days, very few people in Chechnya dare speak to human rights monitors or journalists even anonymously because the climate of fear is overwhelming and people have been largely intimidated into silence.
“Filing an official complaint against local security officials is extremely dangerous, as retaliation by local authorities is practically inevitable.
“It is difficult to overstate just how vulnerable LGBT people are in Chechnya, where homophobia is intense and rampant.
“LGBT people are in danger not only of persecution by the authorities but also of falling victim to ‘honour killings’ by their own relatives for tarnishing family honour.”
UK Foreign Office minister Baroness Anelay has called on Russia to investigate the mass detention of gay men in Chechnya and ensure the perpetrators are brought to justice.
In a statement to PinkNews, Baroness Anelay said: “The detention and ill-treatment of over 100 gay men in Chechnya is extremely concerning. Reports have also suggested that at least three of these men have been killed.
“The statement by the regional Government, implying that such treatment towards LGBT people is acceptable, is particularly abhorrent. We condemn any and all persecution, and call on the authorities to promptly investigate and ensure that perpetrators of human rights abuses are brought to justice.
“The human rights situation for LGBT people in Russia has deteriorated significantly in recent years and we continue to voice our serious concern with Russian authorities at all levels.
“Russia’s international human rights obligations require them to protect citizens who may be at risk of persecution. We expect the Russian government to fulfill its obligations to this end, and to uphold the rule of law.