According to reports, several people have been detained in Russia’s Chechnya region on suspicion of being part of the LGBTQ community.
The Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported on Friday that administrators of LGBTQ groups on the social network VKontakte began warning members of a renewed persecution and arrests. Sources with the Russian LGBT Network also confirmed the veracity of the reports to Novaya Gazeta.
“In Chechnya, the capture of [LGBT] guys and girls again broke out,” one post on VKontakte read. “I ask everyone who is still free to take this message seriously and run away from the republic as soon as possible. I ask you to turn to human rights defenders, the media, friends who can help you.”
Prominent activist Igor Kochetkov told The Associated Press on Friday that gay rights supporters have seen a spike in detentions of men and women suspected of being gay since late December. Kochetkov would not say how many people have been detained or where they are now. He said the activists are preparing a short report to be released on Monday.
The Interior Ministry in Chechnya was not immediately available for comment.
This happened as a throwback of the earlier crackdown in 2016. The reports come a year and a half after more than 100 gay men in Chechnya were arrested and subjected to torture, and some of them were killed, according to activists.
Russian authorities kept denying that the killings and torture took place in the predominantly Muslim region where homosexuality is a taboo, even after one man came forward to talk about the time he spent in detention in Chechnya.
Maxim Lapunov said he was detained by unidentified people on a street in the Chechen capital, Grozny, and kept in custody for two weeks, where he was repeatedly beaten. He was let go after he signed a statement acknowledging he was gay and was told he would be killed if he talked about his time in detention.
According to a report from Crime Russia, Chechen authorities have also deceitfully and deliberately accused some former detainees of being “terrorists” affiliated with ISIS and other Muslim-extremist groups. By doing this, authorities can justify surveilling suspected LGBTQ people under threat of future arrest, and can also “red-flag” their passports to prevent them from leaving Chechnya — as authorities in greater Russia or Western nations may be duped into believing that victims of the purge are threats to national security.
“Nearly two years after reports first surfaced of anti-LGBTQ violence and killings in Chechnya, we are once again hearing disturbing accounts of state-sanctioned detentions and abuse,” Ty Cobb, global director for the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement. “We have repeatedly called on the Trump-Pence White House to speak out and help bring an end to this persecution, but instead the White House has largely ignored the actions of the Russian-backed regime in Chechnya. Human rights violators in Chechnya must be held accountable and be brought to justice. Lives are hanging in the balance.”