A respected Russian newspaper says it has uncovered information that police in the southern Russian republic of Chechnya have rounded up more than 100 men suspected of homosexuality and that at least three have been killed.
First, two television reporters vanished. Then a waiter went missing. Over the past week, men ranging in age from 16 to 50 have disappeared from the streets of Chechnya.
The Saturday report in Novaya Gazeta said it had confirmed the information with sources in the Chechen police and government, but gave no details.
The report was denied by Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov’s spokesman, who suggested there are no homosexuals in the Muslim-majority region. Ali Karimov said, according to the state news agency RIA Novosti, that “it’s impossible to persecute those who are not in the republic.”
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“If such people existed in Chechnya, law enforcement would not have to worry about them, as their own relatives would have sent them to where they could never return,” Karimov said.
The Kremlin-backed Kadyrov is widely accused of extensive human rights violations. He has brought Islam to the fore of Chechnya’s daily life, including opening what is called Europe’s biggest mosque.
While abuses by security services in the region, where Russia fought a two-decade war against Islamic insurgents, have long been a stain on President Vladimir Putin’s human rights record, gay people had not previously been targeted on a wide scale.
The men were detained “in connection with their nontraditional sexual orientation, or suspicion of such,” the newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, reported, citing Russian federal law enforcement officials, who blamed the local authorities.
By Saturday, the paper reported, and an analyst of the region with her own sources confirmed, that more than 100 gay men had been detained. The newspaper had the names of three murder victims, and suspected many others had died in extrajudicial killings.
It began, Novaya Gazeta reported, after a Moscow-based gay rights group applied for permits to stage gay pride parades in four cities in Russia’s predominantly Muslim North Caucasus region, of which Chechnya is a part.
The group had not applied for a permit in Chechnya, but in another Muslim region in southern Russia.
The Associated Press and The New York Times contributed to this report.