Vice News has gone inside one of the makeshift detention centers in Chechnya where gay and bisexual men were reportedly held and tortured, only to hear more denials from the Chechen authorities that such persecution is going on — or that the republic even has any gay residents.
The now-deserted complex in Argun, just north of the Chechen capital city of Grozny, is the focus of Human Rights Watch’s investigation into the abuse of gay and bi Chechens, according to a segment that aired Monday on HBO’s Vice News Tonight.
“The center is now abandoned and falling into disrepair,” Vice reports. “The first building had no doors — they’d all been ripped out. Wires hung from the ceiling, and shattered glass littered the floor, mixed with large pieces of wood and debris. Hundreds of footprints covered the corridor floors, despite repeated denials that the buildings had been in recent use.”
Ayub Kataev, a prison warden and head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Chechnya, stuck to the story that’s been repeated ever since reports of the homophobic abuse emerged. “We don’t think these people exist among us. … My officers would not even want to touch such people, if they exist, let alone beating or torturing them,” he told Vice. Guards made similar denials.
Kataev contended that the reports of antigay persecution are part of an attempt to destabilize Chechnya, a semiautonomous republic within Russia. He suggested those who claim to be survivors of torture are seeking “to get asylum, to leave the country, and obtain free foreign citizenship.”
Accounts of the abuse began emerging in April. Chechen authorities have reportedly detained at least 100 gay and bi men and probably many more, using social media and informants to find them, then imprisoning them for a period in which they are beaten and subjected to electric shocks. They are often released into the custody of their families, but they remain in danger, even from relatives, once their gay relationships are exposed in the deeply homophobic republic, with officials calling on families to kill gay members. At least three men have died while imprisoned, but some survivors have escaped to other countries, where they have told their stories. The persecution has been condemned by many world leaders, but Donald Trump has yet to speak about it.
Watch the full Vice report below.