Hundreds of suspected homosexual men in Russian Chechnya are being held in concentration camps, beaten, tortured and killed.
Russian opposition newspaper, Novaya Gazeta broke the story of a gay purge in the Muslim majority Russian republic of Chechnya. The purge was reportedly ordered after a Moscow-based human rights group was preparing to protest in cities across the Russian Federation.
Chechen authorities are reported to have searched for closeted gay men using social media and online dating websites.
Human Rights Watch has confirmed reports that more than 100 men have been taken and held in concentration camps over suspicions of their “non traditional sexual orientation,” and between three and twenty men are now feared dead. Some men are reported to have been returned to their families.
The journalist who broke the story, Elena Milashina, told the BBC’S Victoria Derbyshire that Chechnya’s largest mosque has declared a jihad against all of the journalist at Novaya Gazeta .
“They said the people at the newspaper who raised this question have damaged the honour of the Chechen nation and should be prosecuted.”
Milashina, who is now in hiding, told Derbyshire that “We know about four secret prisons. Two of them in the capital of Chechnya, Grozny, one of them in Argun – this is the first secret prison we discovered where LGBT people were detained, beaten, tortured and killed.”
The spokesperson for Chechnya’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, denied the report, stating that "you can't detain and harass someone who doesn't exist in the republic."
Chechnya is a semi-autonomous, hard-line Russian republic whose leader wants to enforce the traditional Islamic dress code and defends the honour killing of women. Anal sex is illegal and is punishable by caning or death for multiple offences and the government encourages the honour killing of family members suspected of homosexuality.
The United Nations' High Commissioner on Human Rights released a statement on Thursday, urging the Russian government "to put an end to the persecution of people perceived to be gay or bisexual ... who are living in a climate of fear fuelled by homophobic speeches by local authorities."
Australia’s foreign minister, Julie Bishop, told Fairfax Media that "The Australian government is concerned at reports of mass arrests of individuals in the Republic of Chechnya in the Russian Federation due to their perceived or actual sexual orientation.”
"We have raised our concerns directly with the Russian government. We are seeking advice from the Russian government on whether any Australians are involved so that we can offer appropriate consular assistance."
U.S State Department spokesperson Mark Toner released a statement of concern about the reports on April 7 and the UK Foreign Minister Boris Johnson has condemned Chechnya’s actions. It is not known if US Secretary Of State, Rex Tillerson, broached the subject when he met with Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin on Wednesday. 50 members of the American congress had signed a letter to Tillerson, urging him to pressure Russia to investigate the purge, which violates international law.
Russia has been criticised internationally for it's discrimination against the LGBTI community and recent increase in violence against gay people.
A spokesperson for Russian President Vladimir Putin responded to the international condemnation of the situation in Chechnya by saying that "We do not have such information and it is not a prerogative of the Kremlin. If any actions have been taken by the law enforcement agencies, which, in the opinion of some citizens, were taken with some irregularities, these citizens can use their rights, file relevant complaints, and go to court.”
An estimated 400 protesters descended on the Russian Embassy in London on Thursday, demanding that the Chechen camps be closed.
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