Gay men are allegedly being detained and tortured in concentration camp-like prisons in the Russian region of Chechnya, according to reports. The news comes after reports last week suggested more than 100 suspected gay men were detained and three killed by Chechen police.
Several camps have been set up by the authorities where gay men are being tortured and others killed, according to independent local newspaper Novoya Gazeta. Activists claim the detainees face electric shocks and violent beatings, with some being forced to promise to leave the republic.
Prisoners are also beaten to force them to reveal fellow members of the gay community, one escapee told Novoya Gazeta. Another said he was forced to pay bribes to Chechen police every month to survive, and the creation of the camps is the next step in the region’s anti-gay campaign, reported MailOnline.
Human rights activists from all over the world have reacted in horror and spoken out against the shocking news. Svetlana Zakharova, from the Russian LGBT Network, said the organization is working to evacuate detainees from the camps and some people have left Chechnya.
“Those who have escaped said they are detained in the same room and people are kept altogether, around 30 or 40. They are tortured with electric currents and heavily beaten, sometimes to death,” she told MailOnline.
Tanya Lokshina, from Human Rights Watch in Moscow, wrote last week that “a brutal campaign against LGBT people has been sweeping through Chechnya” for several weeks. “These days, very few people in Chechnya dare speak to human rights monitors or journalists even anonymously because the climate of fear is overwhelming and people have been largely intimidated into silence.”
Indeed, the Guardian reported that Novaya Gazeta has said that it fears for the safety of its journalists after a televised gathering of religious and social leaders in Grozny promised “reprisals” against them.
LGBTQ people are extremely vulnerable in Chechnya, Lokshina continued, as “homophobia is intense and rampant.”
“LGBT people are in danger not only of persecution by the authorities but also of falling victim to 'honour killings' by their own relatives for tarnishing family honour,” she said.
Gay people in Chechnya are likely to be disowned by their families if their sexuality is made public, due to the strictly conservative attitudes that dominate society. Gay men in the region have also been deleting their social media profiles since the New York Times reported that many were being lured into dates and then arrested.
On Friday, former Vice President Joe Biden issued a statement condemning the camps, and called on the current administration "to advance human rights for everyone by raising this issue directly with Russia’s leaders."
"I am disgusted and appalled by reports from both the Russian media and non-governmental organizations that authorities in the Russian republic of Chechnya have rounded up, tortured, and even murdered individuals who are believed to be gay," he wrote. "When faced with such crimes of hate and inhumanity, it is the responsibility of every person of conscience to speak out— to oppose this campaign of violence before it continues further."
In the face of growing international concern and condemnation, Russia says that it has not received "reliable information" on the targeted violence. According to the Associated Press, a spokesperson for Vladimir Putin told journalists, "We do not have any reliable information about any problems in this area."