Gay men are being tortured and murdered in Chechen prisons, detainees have alleged.
Chechen police had rounded up more than 100 men suspected to be gay and allegedly killed at least three of them, an independent Russian newspaper reported.
Some detainees told Novaya Gazeta they were tortured and electrocuted while they were imprisoned, and others described seeing prisoners beaten to death.
The paper's initial report was denied by Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov's spokesman, who called it "absolute lies and disinformation" and suggested there are no homosexuals in the Muslim-majority region.
“You cannot detain and persecute people who simply do not exist in the republic,” he told the Interfax news agency.
“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.”
However, victims told the paper they were beaten with sticks, forced to sit on bottles and had their hands electrocuted.
One said he had been kept near a building where the authorities were holding suspected militants who had fought in Syria or those suspected of being in touch with jihadi fighters.
“Several times a day we were taken out and beaten,” he said. “Their main aim was to find out your circle of contacts — in their minds if you are a suspect then your circle of contacts are all gay. They kept our phones switched on. Any man who calls or texts is a new target."
The detainee also described being beaten with a plastic pipe: “They always hit us below the waist — on the thighs, the buttocks, the loins. They said we were dogs who had no right to life.”
Another victim described how one man was arrested for possession of drugs when police found pornography on his phone and used his contacts list to find other homosexuals.
Some men caught were handed back to their families, the paper reported, with the expectation their family would perform an honour killing.
The newspaper also published two photos of detainees after they were released, one showing a man with bruised buttocks and the other a man with bruised thighs.
The arrests allegedly began after gay rights group GayRussia.ru applied for permits for gay pride parades, which were denied.
The group filed the permits anyway, hoping to take the fight to the European Court of Human Rights.
The Kremlin-backed President Kadyrov is widely accused of extensive human rights violations.
He has brought Islam to the fore of Chechnya's daily life, and gay people who reveal their sexuality are often discriminated against and shunned by their families.
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