Two members of Chechnya’s LGBTQ community have died as a result of police torture and at least 40 have been arrested since the end of December in a new crackdown on gay people in the mostly Muslim North Caucasus republic, activists said Monday.
The new purge comes after global condemnation of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov’s crackdown on the LGBTQ community. Since 2016, Kadyrov’s security services have arrested hundreds of gay men and lesbians and subjected them to beatings and electric shocks. Human rights groups have detailed accounts of police torture and abuse from victims and accused the Kremlin — which oversees the restive Russian republic — of turning a blind eye to Kadyrov’s repression.
The new round of arrests began on Dec. 29, when police in the Chechen region of Argun arrested the administrator of a page on the Russian social media site VKontakte used by the LGBTQ community across Russia’s North Caucasus region, according to Igor Kochetkov, the director of programs for the Russian LGBT Network. The group is a St. Petersburg-based nongovernmental organization tracking abuses against the Chechen gay community.
The group’s sources reported that police had detained both men and women and prevented them from leaving the region by taking their passports, Kochetkov said. The group also reported the two deaths.
The network said it learned about the arrests in early January.
“The Russian authorities are unwilling not only to stop the persecution, but also to acknowledge the fact of illegal detentions, tortures and killings of LGBT people in Chechnya,” the group said in a statement on its website. The Russian LGBT Network has reported helping at least 150 gay men flee Chechnya as a result of last year’s purge. Many of those who fled Chechnya sought asylum in Europe and the United States.
“I ask everyone who is still free to treat this message seriously and get out of the republic as soon as possible,” a Jan. 10 message on VKontakte page said.
Kadyrov, who has a close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, has denied the allegations of human rights violations in Chechnya. In a television interview last year, he insisted there were no gay people in his republic.
Kadyrov’s spokesman, Alvi Karimov, said Monday the Chechen leadership was not involved in the detentions and called the reports of a new purge “untruth and misinformation.”
All places of detention in the Chechen Republic are part of Russia’s federal prison system, Karimov told the Russian news agency RBK.
Kadyrov, who has ruled the mountainous republic with an iron fist for more than a decade, has stayed in Putin’s favor by crushing regional insurgents while pledging allegiance to the Kremlin leader. Russia has fought two bloody wars with Chechnya since the breakup of the Soviet Union. The Kremlin has funded a massive rebuilding of Chechnya, particularly the capital, Grozny, which was nearly flattened after a decade of brutal fighting with Russia.
Kadyrov has also been accused of playing a part in the assassination of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov in central Moscow in 2015 and the earlier death of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who reported extensively about corruption in Chechnya and its close relationship with the Kremlin.
In 2017, the U.S. sanctioned Kadyrov for supporting “extrajudicial killings” and an “anti-gay purge.”