LGBT activists allege that a new antigay purge in Chechnya has led to at least two deaths by torture and the detention of around 40 people.
The purge began in late December, according to the Russian LGBT Network, and appears to be the second wave of a sweeping crackdown that provoked international condemnation but little action within Russia when reports of it first surfaced in April 2017.
News of a renewed antigay campaign was first reported on January 11. The newspaper cited posts on Chechen-based social-media accounts warning of a renewed crackdown and urging members of the LGBT community to leave the southern Russian republic.
Russian LGBT Network head Igor Kochetkov said in a statement that men and women accused of homosexual acts are being detained by local law enforcement and held in Argun, north of the regional capital, Grozny. The police seize personal documents and threaten to press fabricated charges and prosecute those who attempt to flee, he said.
"The persecution of men and women suspected of homosexual relations in [Chechnya] has never stopped. What has changed is only its scale," Kochetkov said.
In comments to the RBK daily on January 11, a spokesman for Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov called the claims by Novaya gazeta that day "falsehood and disinformation" and denied allegations that Chechnya hosts secret prisons for gays. Like other officials in the conservative Muslim-majority republic, Alvi Karimov has repeatedly claimed that no persecution of gays could have occurred in Chechnya because there are no gays there.
"You can't detain and oppress those who don't exist in the republic," Karimov told the Russian news agency Interfax in April 2017. "If such people existed in Chechnya, law enforcement would not have to worry about them, as their own relatives would have sent them to where they could never return."
WATCH: Russian officials have shrugged off allegations of a purge targeting LGBT people in Chechnya, including those of Maksim Lapunov, the only gay man to publicly claim he was victimized in the crackdown. Russian Prosecutor-General’s Office official Valery Maksimenko in July claimed before a UN committee in Geneva that investigators found no evidence supporting Lapunov’s accusations, while Justice Minister Aleksandr Konovalov, speaking in May to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, said officials couldn’t find any gay people in Chechnya.
"We don't have any gays," the Chechen strongman told the U.S. television network in July 2017. "If there are any, take them to Canada. Praise be to God. Take them far from us so we don't have them at home. To purify our blood."
Sasha Mironov, a friend of one man reported to have gone missing in the alleged recent roundup, told Current Time on January 14 that the man, identified only as Magomed, had traveled to his native Chechnya in early December and told friends he would return on December 15. None of them have seen Magomed since, Mironov said, adding that relatives in Chechnya confirmed that he had been detained.
Mironov said he suspects that Magomed's abductors used the man's phone to communicate with contacts in order to lure them to Chechnya, since the messages sent by Mironov after December 15 appeared odd.
"One person can be used to find several, and where there are several there are many more," Mironov said.
Natalia Prilutskaya of the rights group Amnesty International told Current Time -- the Russian-language network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA -- that Chechen authorities feel a sense of impunity since the previous crackdown in April 2017 never provoked condemnation from Moscow, which either tried to play down the rumors or obfuscate their nature.
It wasn't until May 5, 2017, that Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed reports of an antigay purge in Chechnya, telling the Kremlin’s human rights council that he would look into them. But reports of disappearances and extrajudicial killings continued; in September 2018, the Russian LGBT Network said that it helped evacuate 130 people from Chechnya, and all but 18 of them had left Russia, too.
"Until there's an adequate investigation into this situation," Prilutskaya said, "the persecution will continue."