Chechen police 'kidnap and torture gay men' - LGBT activists

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Detained gay rights activist in Moscow with sign saying 'love is stronger than homophobia', 25 May 13Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Gay rights are restricted in Russia and abuses are worse in Chechnya, LGBT activists say

Gay men are fleeing brutal persecution in Chechnya, where police are holding more than 100 people and torturing some of them in an anti-gay crackdown, Russian activists say.

Natalia Poplevskaya of the Russian LGBT Network said "we are working to evacuate people".

A government spokesman called the reports "lies" and said homosexual people "simply don't exist in the republic".

Homophobia is widespread in Chechnya.

The mainly Muslim region is run by Ramzan Kadyrov, an authoritarian leader with a notorious private militia, fiercely loyal to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Ms Poplevskaya told the BBC that victims - either gay or just perceived as gay - are being held at a detention centre near Argun, 20km (13 miles) from the city of Grozny.

She said the LGBT Network, based in St Petersburg, was aware of "an organised 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. Three deaths have been reported.

More than 30 people were crammed into one cell, she added.

Despite appeals to the Russian authorities to stop the abuses, no action has been taken, she complained.

Kadyrov spokesman Alvi Karimov denied the alleged persecution.

"You can't detain and repress people who simply don't exist in the republic," he said.

Media caption,

Svetlana Zakharova from the Russian LGBT Network detailed the detentions to the BBC World Service's Newshour programme

Victims' hotline

The gay rights group has an email hotline to help victims, or potential victims, flee to other parts of Russia. Ms Poplevskaya declined to say where those victims were being sheltered.

News of the crackdown was broken by the Russian daily Novaya Gazeta, which specialises in human rights investigations. It reported that the detainees included some influential Muslim clerics close to Mr Kadyrov, and two well-known Chechen TV presenters.

"We confirm what was said in Novaya Gazeta," Ms Poplevskaya said, while declining to name her sources in Chechnya.

Vigilantes claiming to be enforcing Muslim morals have long targeted gay people in Russia's North Caucasus.

But persecution of gay people in Chechnya intensified in late February, she said.

International concern

LGBT Network submitted reports about the crackdown to the Russian prosecutor-general's office, the Federal Investigative Committee (SK) and federal commissioner for human rights.

"We got no response, despite all the appeals. The only thing was that the Russian ombudswoman said she would initiate an investigation. That was only after Amnesty International filed their own statement," she said.

"The office of the military commandant is now the unofficial detention centre for torture, near Argun. All the victims confirmed that," she said.

But it is not a "concentration camp" for gays, she said, rejecting the description used in some media reports.

Foreign governments and human rights groups have voiced concern about the alleged abuses, urging the Russian and Chechen authorities to stop them.

The EU, the US state department, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are among those who have complained.

Reporting by the BBC's Laurence Peter