Arrests of LGBTQ people in Chechnya have reportedly surged amid fears authorities are launching another campaign targeting queer and trans people.
Advocacy groups have witnessed a concerning “spike in detentions of men and women suspected of being gay,” as activist Igor Kochetkov told the Associated Press. Kochetkov, head of the Russian LGBT Network, did not cite specific numbers.
The report arrived just hours after a warning to Chechnya’s LGBTQ community was posted on the social network Vkontakte.
“We ask anyone still free to take this message seriously and leave the republic as soon as is possible,” the bulletin reads. “I ask you to turn to human rights activists, the media, [and] friends who can help you.”
The message includes an email contact for the Russian LGBT Network and the number to its hotline.
Little is known about the arrests. As the Independent reports, the surge in detentions may have resulted from “contacts of LGBTQ Chechens [finding] their way into the hands of the authorities.”
The Russian LGBT Network is expected to provide more information in a Monday report.
More than 100 people were arrested in 2017 after Chechen police reportedly began imprisoning and torturing suspected LGBTQ individuals. Maxim Lapunov, a survivor of the purge, claimed his jailers would flog him until he could no longer stand. When he collapsed from the pain, they would stand him back up and keep beating him.
At least three people have died as a result. This tally is believed to include Zelim Bakaev, a gay singer who disappeared while visiting the southern Russian republic.
Chechen leaders have continued to deny a crackdown is taking place, even after the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) released a report in December claiming “indisputable” evidence of human rights abuses.
A spokesperson for Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov told the Russian news network RBK TV the new claims are “untruth and misinformation.”
“In the Chechen Republic, there are no prisons and places of detention,” said Alvi Karimov, who has previously said Chechen men “have only one orientation and the country’s highest birth rate speaks of its effectiveness.”
Kadyrov has dismissed the reports as “provocation.”
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