The president of Chechnya claimed has that he is the victim of a smear campaign on the part of human rights organizations.
Ramzan Kadyrov denied recent reports that gay men were being killed and tortured in concentration camps, with interrogation methods that include electric shocks and beatings with wooden sticks and metal rods. At least three have been reported dead in what has been called a "purge" of gay people from the semiautonomous Russian republic.
The Chechen leader took to social media Sunday to call these reports a "massive information attack" by international human rights organizations, which he alleged are "using the most unworthy methods, reality is distorted, attempts are being made to blacken our society, lifestyle, traditions and customs," according to NBC News.
In fact, Kadyrov -- after convening with Chechnya's human rights council --declared there was a "grandiose" improvement in rights for his citizens. Of course, previously, a spokesman for the president, Alvi Karimov, claimed gay people did not exist.
"You cannot arrest or repress people who just don't exist in the republic," said Karimov, adding, "If such people existed in Chechnya, law enforcement would not have to worry about them, as their own relatives would have sent them to where they could never return."
The Kremlin, which has federal control over Chechnya, has also denied reports of the atrocities, despite a growing international outcry.
Even as Kadyrov claims he is under attack, at least one journalist has had to flee Russia over threats of violence. Elena Milashina, who first reported on the atrocities with colleague Irina Gordienko for the Russian paper Novaya Gazeta, told The Washington Post that religious leaders in Chechnya are encouraging their followers to "massacre journalists." The directive came down after an April 3 meeting at a Grozny mosque.
"Not just me, but all the people working at the newspaper are now in danger, because this was a clear jihad message," Milashina said. "'We will persecute you for tarnishing the honor of the Chechen nation, this nasty thing that you said. There are gays among Chechen people? We will persecute you until the last person at Novaya Gazeta dies.' It's unbelievable. It reminds us of the situation with Charlie Hebdo." Charlie Hebdo is the satirical French publication that was attacked by terrorists in 2015, with several staff members killed.
"Today or tomorrow, the Kremlin will have to deal with the situation," Milashina added of the antigay campaign. "I'm very sure of this. We will continue to apply this pressure."