The Russian republic of Chechnya has reportedly opened the first detention camp for homosexuals since the Nazi era. More than 100 gay men have been sent to this camp, in a former military headquarters. Three have been killed, according to reports.
Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta as well as human-rights activists outside of Chechnya say that men suspected of being gay are being rounded up and tortured at the camp. Chechnya was once part of Russia and is now a semi-independent state. Russia itself has a negative reputation for its anti-LGBT stance and is claiming ignorance of the camp.
“You cannot detain and persecute people who simply do not exist in the republic,” said Alvi Karimov, a spokesman for Chechnya’s leader Ramzan Kadroyv. “If there were such people in Chechnya, the law enforcement wouldn’t need to have anything to do with them because their relatives would send them somewhere from which there is no returning.”
“It is difficult to overstate just how vulnerable LGBT people are in Chechnya, where homophobia is intense and rampant,” said Tanya Lokshina, a representative for Human Rights Watch. “LGBT people are in danger not only of persecution by the authorities but also of falling victim to ‘honor killings’ by their own relatives for tarnishing family honor.”
One man who was let go said he was subjected to violence at the camp, with officials trying to force him to reveal the identities and locations of other gay men. His cell phone was seized and his contacts utilized in a further crackdown by officials.
The U.S. State Department issued a statement on April 7 responding to what were termed “numerous credible reports.” The statement by acting spokesperson Mark Toner called on Russian federal authorities to investigate and hold the perpetrators responsible.
“We are increasingly concerned about the situation in the Republic of Chechnya, where there have been numerous credible reports indicating the detention of at least 100 men on the basis of their sexual orientation,” said Toner in a statement. “Some reports indicate many of those arrested have been tortured, in some cases leading to death. We categorically condemn the persecution of individuals based on their sexual orientation or any other basis.
“The State Department urged Russian federal authorities to speak out against such practices, take steps to ensure the release of anyone wrongfully detained, conduct an independent and credible investigation into these reports, and hold any perpetrators responsible,” said the statement.
Natalia Poplevskaya of the Russian LGBT Network told BBC News, “we are working to evacuate people.” She said homophobia is widespread in Chechnya. “It is a mainly Muslim region run by Ramzan Kadyrov, an authoritarian leader with a private militia and who is loyal to Russian President Vladimir Putin.”
Poplevskaya told the BBC that victims — either gay or just perceived as gay — are being held at a detention center near Argun, which is 13 miles from the city of Grozny. She said the LGBT Network, based in St Petersburg, Russia, is aware of “an organized campaign to detain gay men” in Chechnya.
“Torture is going on with electric shocks, beatings with cables. All the people arrested are homosexual men or perceived as being gay,” she said to the BBC. “It is now being reported that three deaths have occurred and that more than 30 people were crammed into one cell.” Despite appeals to the Russian authorities to stop the abuses, no action has been taken, said Popleyskaya.
Ramzan Kadyrov through his spokesman, Alvi Karimov, continued to deny the story when contacted by the BBC.