In recent days horrifying reports have claimed scores of Chechen men suspected of being gay are being tortured in concentration-style camps.
Those held captive have reportedly been subjected to electric shocks and violent beatings in an attempt to get them to reveal other homosexuals’ identities.
So far, at least three men are said to have died.
In light of these horrific allegations, what do we actually know for definite?
— Amnesty UK (@AmnestyUK) April 12, 2017
When did the purge begin?
In late March, a trickle of disappearances led to a stream, as up to 100 men of all ages went missing.
Then on April 1, an explosive report by respected campaigning newspaper Novaya Gazeta claimed the Chechen authorities were attempting a “complete cleansing” of homosexuals.
The Chechen Interior Ministry branded it an “April Fools’ joke.”
— Jess Rich (@MsJessRich) April 12, 2017
The newspaper noted the abductions began shortly after gay rights group GayRussia.Ru, apparently applied to organise Gay Pride marches in Russian cities.
— Elton John (@eltonofficial) April 12, 2017
The group’s leader Nikolay Alexeyev was said to be using the rejection letters for the parades to present as evidence of Russian persecution of gays to the European Court of Human Rights.
What is the Chechen government’s response?
Kremlin-backed Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said there were no homsexuals living in the republic for them to persecute.
His spokesman Alvi Karimov told Interfax news agency “you cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic.”
He added: “If such people existed in Chechnya … their own relatives would have sent them to where they could never return.”
Chechnya is a Muslim-majority autonomous southern Russian republic. Being openly gay can effectively be a death sentence in the province.
How accurate are the claims?
Besides the initial newspaper reports a number of established organisations have independently verified the story.
Human Rights Watch said it was in “no doubt” about whether the “devastating developments” were happening.
An Amnesty International petition calling on the Russian government to carry out a “thorough investigation” has so far got around 70,000 of the 100,000 signatures it wants.
— Fergal McFerran (@FergalMcFerran) April 12, 2017
The Russian LGBT Network said they had been contacted by around 40 men affected by the round-up after setting up a confidential hotline for them to contact.
Some men have reportedly been released severely injured, while others remain detained but details and numbers remain unclear.
Hundreds protesting against the imprisonment and torture of gays in Chechnya outside Russian Embassy in London pic.twitter.com/8yBUWBVbVI
— Thomas Hornall (@Thomashornall) April 12, 2017
Because the society is so strict and the penalties so severe, no victims are named and those with sources in the region have to be extremely careful not to identify them.
What is the British government saying?
— Clive Lewis MP (@labourlewis) April 12, 2017
Baroness Anelay said: “The detention and ill-treatment of over 100 gay men in Chechnya is extremely concerning. Reports have also suggested that at least three of these men have been killed.
“The statement by the regional Government, implying that such treatment towards LGBT people is acceptable, is particularly abhorrent.
— Tom Brake MP (@thomasbrake) April 12, 2017
“The human rights situation for LGBT people in Russia has deteriorated significantly in recent years and we continue to voice our serious concern with Russian authorities at all levels.
“We expect the Russian government to fulfill its obligations to this end, and to uphold the rule of law.”
Cross-party British MEPs have also joined together to send Theresa May and foreign secretary Boris Johnson a letter, urging them to call a meeting with the Ambassador of the Russian Federation to the UK.
So far the Russian government has not publicly commented on the troubling affair.