A new crackdown on Chechnya’s LGBTQ population has led to at least two people being killed and about 40 being detained since December.
The Russian LGBT Network on Monday reported the Russian republic launched a new pressure campaign on the gay community and said both men and women suspected of being gay have been detained at a high rate.
Igor Kochetkov, program director at the Russian LGBT Network, said it's impossible to know a precise number of detainees right now.
“However, we know that around 40 people were detained, both men and women. At least two people died as a result of tortures," he said. "We also know that the detentions are conducted by the law enforcement officers, and the victims are detained in Argun. The local police make every effort to prevent victims from leaving the region or applying to the courts in the future. They take away documents, they threaten the victims with the criminal proceedings against them or their close ones, and they force them to sign empty forms.”
Kochetkov informed international press outlets of the new persecution, that has taken place over the past few weeks.
“Widespread detentions, torture, and killings of gay people have resumed in Chechnya,” Kochetkov told the Associated Press. “Persecution of men and women suspected of being gay never stopped. It’s only that its scale has been changing.”
The Independent reports the detentions picked up starting with a December 29 arrest.
That's when the Russian LGBT Network says an administrator for a prominent LGBTQ social media group, VKontakte, was detained. The group catered primarily to gay men in the North Caucasus region. That arrest provided authorities with a database of individuals in the group, along with contact information.
The two individuals killed were reportedly tortured to death by Chechen authorities. All detainees are being kept in an Argun facility that also housed individuals imprisoned during infamous 2017 raids.
Kochetkov. in a video statement obtained by The Independent, said Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, who notoriously called LGBT people “devils” who needed to be removed to “purify our blood” in an HBO Sports interview in 2017, was behind the current raids, but Russian leaders also hold responsibility.
“This was only possible because of the Kadyrov regime and its policy of cleansing Chechen blood from what it sees as harmful elements,” he said, according to The Independent. “But the greater responsibility lies on [Moscow’s] shoulders. They failed to properly investigate the crimes of 2017, and any investigations they allowed were of a formal nature — intent on covering up tracks.”
Russian authorities last May told the United Nations they had investigated accusations but found no evidence of crime, nor any confirmation LGBTQ people actually exist in Chechnya.
“There weren’t even representatives of LGBTI in Chechnya,” Alexander Konovalov, Russia's minister of justice, previously told the U.N. Human Rights Council. “We weren’t able to find anyone."
At the time, Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported at least 100 gay and bisexual men had been detained and as many as 26 had been killed.