Police in Chechnya, a majority-Muslim region of Russia, have relaunched a campaign to arrest suspected gay and lesbian Russians, killing two and arresting over 40 others in the past month according to a report published Monday.
According to Russia’s LGBT Network, which seeks to protect LGBT people from repression and violence in Chechnya, the arrests of suspected homosexuals began last month. The group has documented at least two people killed while tortured in police custody.
“We can already say that the torture being suffered by those detained is savage, much worse than for those detained in 2017,” the LGBT Network’s programme director, Igor Kochetkov, told the Telegraph. “We know of two dead, but probably more have been killed.”
The individuals are reportedly being held at an infamous prison in the town of Argun, where they have had their documents seized to prevent them fleeing the region. Authorities have also used the threat of violence against relatives and family members should they speak out about the crackdown.
The arrests are the latest case of an anti-homosexual crackdown in the Muslim majority region, where Putin-backed strongman leader Ramzan Kadyrov has led repressive campaigns in an effort to “purify” the blood of the Chechnyan people.
The most prominent case took place in 2017 when over 100 gay men were rounded up and tortured. Some were handed over to relatives with the expectation they would carry out an “honor killing,” while others were forced to sign blank criminal charges for possible future detainment.
On Monday, a spokesperson for Kadyrov denounced the reports as “complete lies [that] don’t have an ounce of truth in them.” Kadyrov has repeatedly denied all allegations of human rights violations and widespread persecution of LGBT Russians and has previously claimed that gay people “don’t exist” in Chechnya because their own relatives would have banished them from the region.
“You cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic,” Kadyrov said at the time. “If such people existed in Chechnya, law enforcement would not have to worry about them since their own relatives would have sent them to where they could never return.”
In an interview with the BBC last January, Kadyrov also said the allegations were mainly from people looking to make money.
“That’s all an invention by foreign agents who are paid a few kopecks” he said. “So-called human rights activists make up all sorts of nonsense for money.”
Kadyrov’s claims have not suppressed evidence of a sustained campaign of repression in Chechnya; former U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley was among the many figures to publicly condemn the reports.
“Widespread detentions, torture, and killings of gay people have resumed in Chechnya,” Kochetkov added. “Persecution of men and women suspected of being gay never stopped. It’s only that its scale has been changing.”