The “entire staff” of a major Russian newspaper are at risk of reprisals after it disclosed the alleged abuse and killing of gay men in Chechnya, its editors said.
Novaya Gazeta, which has won plaudits for its independence from the Kremlin, warned that “religious fanatics” were being encouraged to “massacre journalists”.
Earlier this month, the paper reported that police in the Russian republic have rounded up more than 100 men suspected of homosexuality, leaving at least three dead.
The newspaper’s website briefly crashed on Thursday night, shortly after editors published a statement detailing the threat the paper faced, leading journalists to suspect it had fallen victim to a cyber attack.
According to the statement, 15,000 people attended a meeting in the Chechen capital, Grozny, adopting a resolution vowing “retribution” against the “true instigators” of the story.
The paper claimed that Adam Shakhidov, an adviser to Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechen ruler, accused its staff of libel at the meeting and described them as “enemies of our faith and our homeland”.
Chechnya, which has been the scene of a bloody war between separatists and the federal government since the 1990s, is predominantly Muslim. Mr Kadyrov, who succeeded his father as president, presides over an increasingly conservative and autocratic regime.
“This resolution pushes religious fanatics towards the massacre of journalists,” the editors said in the statement. “It is evident for Novaya Gazeta that the current wave of repression is not a unique phenomenon in today’s Chechnya.
“Silence and inaction in such situations makes everyone who has the possibility to do something an accomplice. That is why Novaya Gazeta continues to work in Chechnya.”
The paper reported that authorities are running a secret prison where men suspected of being gay are kept and tortured. Earlier this week, several hundred people attended a rally outside the Russian embassy in London, waving rainbow flags to protest the allegations. “Love is love,” read one placard, in Russian.
Chechen authorities have denied any wrongdoing. A spokesman for Mr Kadyrov has claimed such abuses are impossible since there are no gay people in Chechnya. “If there were any gay people in the region, they would have been dealt with by their own relatives,” he has said.
The United Nations urged the Russian government to investigate the reports. Its human rights office, the UNHCR, called on Russia “to put an end to the persecution of people perceived to be gay or bisexual who are living in a climate of fear fuelled by homophobic speeches by local authorities”.
The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which linked Europe with Russia during the Cold War, also spoke out. Michael Georg Link, the director of its human rights office, said Moscow must “urgently investigate the alleged disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment”.
Novaya Gazeta has long been a thorn in the side of Russian strongmen. It employed the journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was shot dead in her Moscow apartment in 2006.