Chechnya's leader Ramzan Kadyrov has been hospitalised with suspected coronavirus, according to Russian media reports.
The Head of the Chechen Republic, who in recent years has overseen a terrifying purge of gay men in the semi-autonomous Russian region, was flown to hospital in Moscow on Wednesday (20 May), the BBC reports.
Baza Telegram, a social media channel close associated with Russian authorities, reported that Kadyrov, 43 had exhitibted symptoms of coronavirus for several days but was moved after his condition "deteriorated".
Kadyrov, who has ruled Chechnya since 2007 and is a close political ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin, was already rumoured to be in poor health after taking time off for medical procedures in 2019 and again in January this year.
Chechnya, which has been under strict lockdown since early April, has reported a total of 1,026 coronavirus cases out of Russia’s overall total of 317,554, The Moscow Times reports.
Reports of a violent purge of gay men in Chechnya were first reported in April 2017, as witnesses claimed hundreds of men had been rounded up, tortured and beaten.
Russian media reported early on during the crackdown that at least 27 men had been killed, with many more missing.
They include an aspiring young Russian singer, Zelimkhan Bakaev, who disappeared in Chechnya in August 2017 while visiting the region for his sister's wedding and has not been heard from since.
Kadyrov himself denied any state involvement in Bakaev's disappearance at the time, alleging the then-25-year-old had been the victim of an 'honour' killing by his own relatives - something denied by Bakaev's father.
Kadyrov also denied wider allegations of a state-sponsored purge, claiming they could not be true because there 'were no gay men' in Chechnya.
Human rights groups report that police persecution of LGBTQ people in Chechnya remains ongoing, after an investigation by the Russian government in 2018 dismissed the allegations because they "couldn't find" any LGBTQ witnesses willing to come forward.