Hundreds of protesters thronged the streets outside of the Russian embassy in London yesterday in response to reports from human rights groups that gay men are being “rounded up” and put in “concentration camps” in Chechnya.
One hundred men are reportedly being held in the camps, and at least three have died. According to a report from NBC News, men who escaped the camps describe rooms filled with anywhere from 15 to 30 prisoners being held without food, tortured with electric shocks and beaten – sometimes fatally.
In the same report, Ukranian journalist Maxim Eristavi told NBC that the current head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadryov, has “one of the worst human rights records of all Russian regions.”
“What is happening right now with gay men is part of a longtime practice of state violence towards dissenting voices in Chechnya,” Eristavi said.
The reports have sparked an outcry from gay rights groups worldwide. A petition being circulated on Change.org demanding a “full investigation of all the facts about unlawful repression in Chechnya” has garnered 79,350 signatures so far.
An Amnesty petition with more than 83,000 signatures calls for Russian and Chechen authorities to investigate these abductions and bring the men to safety.
The State Department recently issued a statement condemning reports of the concentration camps. “We are deeply disturbed by recent public statements by Chechen authorities that condone and incite violence against LGBTI persons,” the statement reads. “We urge Russian federal authorities to speak out against such practices, take steps to ensure the release of anyone wrongfully detained, conduct an independent and credible investigation into these reports and hold any perpetrators responsible.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is visiting Russia today but it isn’t clear if he’ll be bringing up the topic of gay concentration camps in Chechnya when he meets with Russian officials. (It doesn’t help that he isn’t traveling with a dedicated press corps.)
Russia has long been known as a bastion for anti-LGBT sentiment. In 2013, the country banned all “gay propaganda”; hate crimes and discrimination in the country have since risen.
“Russia is the state that is responsible for responding to this,” Maria Sjodin, Deputy Executive Director at Outright International, told NBC. “The international community has to put pressure on Russia to intervene.”