A recent report from a Russian opposition newspaper has shed light on what international LGBT activists are calling a disturbing wave of violence against gay men in Chechnya.
“This is a nightmare, it’s really scary to think about what’s happening to gay people in Chechnya," read one Russian language tweet.
More than 100 men in the region — some as young as 16 years old — have disappeared since February, according to sources who spoke with newspaper Novaya Gazeta.
It’s not clear who's directly responsible, but activists fear it’s a wide-scale purge orchestrated by the local government.
The Chechen Republic is a predominantly Muslim region of the Russian Federation in the North Caucasus, and it’s also where Russia fought two bloody wars against separatist rebels.
A spokesman for Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov rejected the report, calling it an “April Fool’s joke.” He told the Russian news agency Interfax, "You cannot detain and persecute people who simply do not exist in the republic" — suggesting there are no gay people in Chechnya.
The situation has apparently gotten so bad that a Moscow-based LGBT rights group has set up a hotline to help gay Chechens — and the group has even been trying to get them out of the region altogether.
The Kremlin has promised to look into the matter, but Human Rights Watch and other groups are skeptical.
"Murders like these don't just happen in Chechnya, assaults against LGBT people happen all over Russia, too," tweeted another Russian user.
Russia has plenty of issues when it comes to LGBT rights. In 2013, the Duma passed a law that outlaws so-called “gay propaganda,” and activists say homophobic violence is becoming increasingly common across the federation.
The U.S. State Department on Wednesday called on Moscow to investigate the disappearances. "We are very concerned by the widespread discrimination and violence against LGBTI persons in Russia or any society. We call on the Russian government to protect all people from discrimination and violence, and allow the free exercise of the freedoms of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and religion or belief,” said a State Department official in a statement to BuzzFeed News.
The United Kingdom's Foreign Office issued a similar statement, warning its citizens against traveling to Chechnya.