In just the last week, more than 100 gay men have disappeared in Chechnya, a Baltic country controlled by Russia.
The news was first reported by Chechen newspaper Novaya Gazeta and then confirmed independently by The New York Times. Although Novaya Gazeta knows the names of only three murdered by the covert operation, it suspects that many others have died as well.
Chechen authorities have detained the men “in connection with their nontraditional sexual orientation, or suspicion of such,” according to Novaya Gazeta. The motivation behind the sweeping move is unknown.
The Chechen government, which has been accused of human rights abuses, publicly denies the reports of kidnappings. In fact, a spokesperson for Chechnya’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, went so far as to deny the existence of gays in Chechnya entirely.
“You cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic,” the spokesperson, Alvi Karimov, told Interfax on Saturday.
“If such people existed in Chechnya, law enforcement would not have to worry about them, as their own relatives would have sent them to where they could never return,” Mr. Karimov said, referring to the “honor killings” of gays.
This is not the first time that Chechnya’s leader has found himself in the Western media spotlight. In one instance last September, Kadyrov drew attention and laughter for imploring the Chechen people on his Instagram account to help locate his missing cat.
Russian President Vladimir Putin himself has deployed a homophobic agenda, partly to appeal to conservative strains of Russian society. In 2013, Russia passed a “gay propaganda” law that discriminated against homosexuality and led to a dramatic rise in violence against gay Russians.
As of this morning, Kadyrov has not made any appeal on Instagram for help in finding any of the missing Chechen men.
His most recent post, made around 6 PM Chechen time, is a photo of Vladimir Putin.