As international outrage over the state-sponsored persecution of gay men in Chechnya continues, cameras have for the first time been granted access to the makeshift detention centre in which gay men were allegedly beaten and tortured by authorities in the southern Russian republic.
VICE News obtained exclusive access to the alleged prison in Argun, Chechnya, where numerous gay men claim they were detained as part of anti-gay purge ordered by Chechnya’s Kremlin-backed leader, Ramzan Kadyrov.
The Russian newspaper which first shed light on the violence claims that at least 26 men have died in the crackdown, with horrifying reports of families being told to kill their own gay relatives by authorities in a spate of state-backed ‘honour’ killings.
As investigations by Human Rights Watch and the Russian government continue, VICE has been granted access to the now-deserted site in Argun, where Ayub Kataev, Chechnya’s Head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs for Argun and warden of the prison, denies that any gay men were ever detained there.
He tells reporter Hind Hassan: “Imagine if there are gays… would we, the Chechens, communicate with them at all? My officers would not even want to touch such people – if they exist – let alone beating or torturing them.”
An alleged victim who reviewed the footage “categorically” confirmed that the that the building was the one in which he was detained, and claimed he suffered abuse at the hands of Kataev himself during his time there.
When the accusation is put to Kataev, he replies: “I don’t know why they are saying this. Maybe they want to blacken my name. We don’t think there are such people among us.”
He adds that he believes victims are lying the torture they suffered in order to get asylum abroad.
Amnesty International’s Russia researcher Heather McGill said that the footage was yet more evidence of Chechnya’s institutional homophobia, and urged countries to do more to offer asylum to LGBT+ people fleeing the region.
“The interview with Ayub Kataev clearly shows the extent of homophobia in Chechnya. He echoes the denials we’ve also heard from all levels of the Chechen authorities – that there are supposedly no gay people in Chechnya,” McGill said.
“Sadly, neither the use of torture or secret detention centres are new in Chechnya – in the past they’ve been used against suspected combatants as well as drug users. We’ve also interviewed men who told us that they were held in secret detention centres and tortured to force them to ‘admit’ to being gay or to disclose the names of others.
“It’s imperative that those at risk in Chechnya are able to access effective asylum procedures in other countries. So far only a handful of countries have offered asylum to gay men fleeing human rights violations in Chechnya.”
A spokesperson for Russia LGBT Network previously told Buzzfeed news that the organisation is having “difficulty” securing visas that would allow the men to escape torture and possible death.
While the spokesperson refused to name all of the countries that are pushing back, they did say: “We were informed that the US is not going to issue visas for people from Chechnya.”
However, the US State Department refused to comment on the claims, saying: “As visa records are confidential under US law, we are unable to discuss individual cases.”