LGBT activists said Monday that at least two people have died and about 40 people have been detained in what has been described as a new crackdown on gay people in the Russian republic of Chechnya.
The new allegations come after reports in 2017 of more than 100 gay men arrested and subjected to torture, and some of them killed, in the predominantly Muslim region. Chechen authorities denied those accusations, and federal authorities conducted a probe that found nothing to support the reports.
In October of 2017, Russian human rights group announced it “seriously fears” that Zelimkhan Bakayev, 26, a gay pop star, was killed as part of Chechnya’s deadly crackdown. According to the Guardian, Bakayev went missing in August when he left his home in Moscow to visit the capital, Grozny, for his sister’s wedding. Bakayev remains missing to this day.
“When a person disappears and the police force refuse to investigate his disappearance, we have serious fears for the life of that person,” Oleg Orlov, from Memorial, Russia’s oldest civil rights group, told AFP on Friday.
Alvi Karimov, spokesman for Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, told the Interfax news agency on Monday that the reports are “complete lies and don’t have an ounce of truth in them.” Karimov insisted that no one has been detained in Chechnya on suspicion of being gay.
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The Russian LGBT Network, which has been monitoring the situation in Chechnya and helping victims, said in a statement Monday that about 40 men and women have been detained on suspicion of being gay since December and that at least two of them have died of torture in detention. The detainees are believed to be kept at the same facility that was named in the 2017 reports.
The crackdown was first reported on Friday but the activists didn’t release full details at the time.
“Widespread detentions, torture and killings of gay people have resumed in Chechnya,” Igor Kochetkov, program director at the Russian LGBT Network said. “Persecution of men and women suspected of being gay never stopped. It’s only that its scale has been changing.”
Kochetkov said the new wave of persecution started at the end of the year when Chechen authorities detained the administrator of a social media group popular with LGBT people in the North Caucasus. Kochetkov said the mass detentions began after the authorities got hold of contacts on his phone.
Russian authorities have strenuously denied that killings and torture took place in the predominantly Muslim region where homosexuality is taboo, even after one man came forward to talk about the time he spent in detention in Chechnya.
Maxim Lapunov said he was detained by unidentified people on a street in the Chechen capital, Grozny, in 2017 and kept in custody for two weeks, where he was repeatedly beaten. He was let go after he signed a statement acknowledging he was gay and was told he would be killed if he talked about his time in detention.
Lapunov, who is not an ethnic Chechen and is from Siberia, was the first to file a complaint with Russian authorities over the wave of arrests of gay people.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe last month called on Russia to investigate the reports, and Lapunov’s case specifically.