A respected Russian newspaper has claimed that at least three gay men have been killed in Chechnya by their own government.
It added that around 100 gay men have also been rounded up by police and detained, with their fate currently uncertain.
The southern Russian Republic of Chechnya is strictly conservative, with LGBT+ people almost always rejected by their friends and family after they come out.
However, Chechnya has denied the claims, insisting that it’s “impossible to persecute” gay men in the country as they don’t exist.
“If there were such people in Chechnya, the law-enforcement organs wouldn’t need to have anything to do with them because their relatives would send them somewhere from which there is no returning,” Government spokesman Ali Karimov told the state news agency RIA Novosti.
That goes against a report by Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, who said it had confirmed the information with sources in the Chechen police and government.
Russia project director for the International Crisis Group, Ekaterina Sokirianskaia, told the Guardian that she was concerned about the information coming out of Chechnya.
“I have heard about it happening in Grozny [the Chechen capital], outside Grozny, and among people of very different ages and professions,” she said.
“It’s next to impossible to get information from the victims or their families, but the number of signals I’m receiving from different people makes it hard not to believe detentions and violence are indeed happening.”
An LGBT+ rights organisation in St Petersburg has set up has set up an anonymous hotline for gay people in the Chechnya region who need to seek help to evacuate the area.
Those who work on human rights in the Chechnya area have also denied the reports, including Kheda Saratova, an activist who is on Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov’s human rights council.
“I haven’t had a single request on this issue, but if I did, I wouldn’t even consider it,” he said during an interview on a Russian radio station.
“In our Chechen society, any person who respects our traditions and culture will hunt down this kind of person without any help from authorities, and do everything to make sure that this kind of person does not exist in our society.”