At least two people have been tortured to death and 40 detained in a new wave of state persecutions of queer people in the Russian Republic of Chechnya, Russian activists say.
According to a statement issued by rights group the Russian LGBT Network on Monday, police are holding detainees in prisons in the city of Argun.
The new wave of arrests reportedly began in early December and included both men and women suspected of being queer.
RFE/RL-operated news site Nastoyashcheye Vremya (current time) cited Svetlana Zakharova, a spokesperson for the Russian LGBT Network, as saying that the persecutions ‘never stopped, but were happening with different intensity’.
‘Since the beginning of December, the security forces have intensified their activity. We are doing everything to help the victims’, she added.
In an address published on YouTube, Igor Kochetkov, the group’s programmes director, said they now had every reason to believe that the ‘mass detentions, tortures and murders’ had resumed.
According to him, the latest wave of persecutions came after on 29 December, the administrator of a large group on social network Vkontakte for queer people in the North Caucasus was detained by the Chechen authorities.
‘In the hands of Chechen police appeared a large contact database from the phone of the detained’.
Kochetkov said the group knew of around 40 people who had been detained ‘among which are both men and women’. ‘Two of them died as they couldn’t stand the torture’, he added.
‘The police are doing everything they can not to allow those detained to leave the territory of the Chechen republic’.
He said that identity documents were confiscated by force from the detainees, that they were ‘threatened with falsification of criminal cases against them or their relatives’, and forced to sign empty head-lettered papers.
Kochetkov said the detainees were being tortured and that ‘some of them have already been handed over to relatives for punishment’.
He said the persecutions were motivated by Chechen Head Ramzan Kadyrov’s desire to ‘cleanse the Chechen blood from harmful, from their point of view, elements’.
This was possible, he said, because ‘Chechen law enforcement can execute these criminal orders, to torture people, enjoying the full impunity’.
Kochetkov said that the responsibility for what had happened lay with the federal authorities, who he said did not investigate the previous persecutions in 2017.
Alvi Karimov, a spokesman for the head of Chechnya, said in told Russian news agency RBC that new reports of persecutions of queer people in Chechnya were misinforming and not true.
‘In the Chechen Republic there are no prisons and places of deprivation of liberty that are not part of the [Federal Penitentiary System]’, Karimov said.
On Tuesday, liberal opposition party Yabloko released a statement harshly condemning the persecution and detention of queer people in Chechnya.
The party called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to immediately meet with Kadyrov and to ‘publicly and firmly declare the inadmissibility of such actions’.
‘We demand that all instances of persecution against representatives of the LGBT community be investigated immediately, and that the Chechen leadership is investigated for participating in illegal activities. The perpetrators must be punished’, the statement said.
The Russian authorities have not yet commented.
Russian daily Novaya Gazeta first reported in April 2017 that the Chechen authorities had launched a major operation targeting suspected queer men earlier that year, with more than a hundred men detained and at least three killed.
Those believed by activists to have been killed by the authorities included well-known Chechen singer Zelim Bakayev.
The Chechen authorities denied the report at the time, calling it an attempt to ‘tarnish Chechnya’s reputation’.
Chechen Head Ramzan Kadyrov has frequently stated that the reports were impossible as there are no gay men in Chechnya.
Similarly, the Russian authorities including Russia’s Public Defender Tatyana Moskalkova claimed that the reports of persecution could be false, as neither federal nor Chechen institutions, such as the police and the Prosecutor’s Office, had received a single reported case.
[Read more on OC Media: Mass detentions and killing of queer men reported in Chechnya]
In July 2017, the Russian LGBT Network released a report with witness testimonies from a number of queer people caught up in the systematic persecution of queer people in Chechnya.
It stated that three separate waves of persecutions took place, with the first starting in December 2016 going on through February 2017, the second in March through May, and the third one from the end of July 2017 until the end of summer.
In his video address on Monday Kochetkov said that around 200 people were detained in the spring and summer of 2017 by the police and national guard, ‘under the leadership of high-ranking officials in the Chechen republic’.
He said that at least three had been confirmed killed, and that the actual numbers could be much higher.
In their 2018 Nations in Transit report American rights group Freedom House said there was ‘credible evidence of at least 31 deaths of Chechen men who were suspected of being gay’.
Kochetkov said that the Chechen authorities were forced to stop the mass detentions in summer 2017 as the result of international pressure. Nevertheless, he said, the Russian LGBT Network had ‘continued to receive reports of single cases of illegal detentions, torture, and blackmail’.
[Read more on OC Media: Witnesses detail continuing anti-queer purge in Chechnya]