President Vladimir Putin says he will speak to top law enforcement officials about reports alleging a campaign of abuse targeting gay men in Russia's southern Chechnya region, which he suggested may be nothing more than "rumors."
Putin’s pledge during a May 5 meeting with Kremlin human rights commissioner Tatyana Moskalkova in Moscow comes amid mounting international pressure over the alleged torture and killing of gay men in Chechnya, first reported last month by the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta.
Chechnya's Kremlin-backed leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, has denied any such campaign has taken place in the mainly Muslim region, and Putin also suggested the allegations may be false.
"Of course, I will talk with the prosecutor-general and the interior minister so that they support you on the issue that you have raised here based on well-known information -- or on rumors, you might say -- about what is happening in the North Caucasus with people of nontraditional sexual orientation," Putin told Moskalkova.
Since the Novaya Gazeta report in early April, gay men from Chechnya have given personal accounts to RFE/RL and other media of their escape from the abuse they faced in the region in the North Caucasus, which Kadyrov has ruled with an iron hand and with strong Kremlin support for a decade.
Rights activists and Western governments have urged the Russian government to investigate the alleged abuses.
The United States has said it is "increasingly concerned" about the reports, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel raised the issue in a May 2 meeting with Putin in Sochi.
"We have heard some very negative reports about the treatment of homosexuals in Chechnya, and I asked President Vladimir Putin to use his influence to guarantee minority rights here," she said.