Since then, gay men from Chechnya have described brutal torture at the hands of the authorities, the journalist who broke the story has fled her home, and international figures, including US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, have denounced the violence.
One victim interviewed by Human Rights Watch said authorities treated him and others held in an unofficial detention facility “like animals.”
“Beatings, electric shocks I could deal with… I was strong. But the humiliation was unbearable,” he said. “The [police] spit in our faces, they called us disgusting, offensive names, they forced us into humiliating poses…When they finally released me, I was close to hanging myself. I cannot live with this, I just can’t.”
According to a report by The Guardian, as many as several hundred men may have been abducted.
Meanwhile, Chechen authorities’ official response to the reports was that there are no gay people in Chechnya — but if there were, their families would have already sent them “somewhere from which there is no returning.”
“You cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic,” Kadyrov spokesman Alvi Karimov told Interfax. “If there were such people in Chechnya, the law enforcement organs wouldn’t need to have anything to do with them because their relatives would send them somewhere from which there is no returning.”
He also cited the republic’s high birthrate as proof that nobody there is gay — because getting someone pregnant is obviously incompatible with being attracted to people of the same sex.
Then things got worse: on April 3, 15,000 people came to a televised rally in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, where a Kadyrov adviser accused Novaya Gazeta of libel and called its journalists “enemies of our faith and of our country.”
The paper, known for some of the fiercest investigative journalism in Russia, announced that it was afraid for its reporters’ lives. There’s precedent for attacks on its staff: Novaya Gazeta journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who covered human rights abuses in Chechnya, was gunned down inside her apartment building in 2006.
On April 18, Nikolai Alexeyev, the activist behind the push for LGBT rallies across Russia, announced that he was suing Novaya Gazeta for linking him to the violence and said there were “no proven facts of gays being prosecuted in Chechnya.”
The US State Department and the Canadian Foreign Minister have called on Russia to investigate the reported abuses, and the UK’s Foreign Office has condemned them. Human Rights Watch’s Tanya Lokshina says “the West needs to keep the pressure up on Putin.”
“If all the key international organizations and international actors continue to raise the issue with the Kremlin in one way or another, Russia’s president will be compelled to put an end to Kadyrov’s anti-gay purge,” Lokshina wrote in a Moscow Times column.