Disturbing reports of gay concentration camps in Chechnya have sparked international outrage this week. Chechnya has a history of homophobia, and it's only worsened since Ramzan Kadyrov assumed power in 2007. Kadyrov's leadership can be described as authoritarian, and he's supported by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Accounts of gay men being rounded up and imprisoned in Chechnya started circulating on April 10, and a Russian newspaper first published the disturbing story on April 1. Novaya Gazeta reported that more than 100 gay men had been rounded up and imprisoned in Chechnya. The sweep allegedly came after a gay rights group based in Moscow tried to secure demonstration permits in Chechen cities.
Russian human rights activist Ekaterina L. Sokiryanskaya confirmed to The New York Times that she had also heard the same reports.
"I got numerous, numerous signals," said Sokiryanskaya, who heads the International Crisis Group in Russia. "It came from too many sources not to be true."
Chechnya is already a country where homosexuality is taboo, which is another reason it's so troubling men that were reportedly rounded up; many of them were not openly gay. According to Novaya Gazeta, armed agents executed three of the men they detained in the sweep as an honor killing.
Kadyrov isn't known as a leader with empathy. He's previously been accused of having critics assassinated, like Anna Politkovskaya, a Russian journalist, who criticized his force in a Chechen civil war. She was killed in 2006, two days after appearing on a radio show disavowing him.
The denial of the account from Kadyrov spokesman Alvi Karimov was particularly troublesome; he posited that homosexuality does not exist in Chechnya, therefore the claims were erroneous. "You cannot arrest or repress people who just don't exist in the republic," Karimov told Interfax.