BENGALURU: At the beginning of April this year, Novaya Gazeta, a Russian daily broke the news of members of the LGBT community in Chechnya facing persecution at the hands of the Republic of Chechnya, a part of the Russian Federation.

The Chechen authorities have since the first report denied the existence of these concentration camps for members belonging to the LGBT communities. Initial reports claimed that over hundred individuals were being held at these camps, subjected to beatings, starvation, abuse and electrocution.

There have also been accounts of young gay men being killed by their family members, encouraged by the authorities, who would otherwise do it themselves. In a shocking instance a 17 year old man suspected to be gay was pushed down from the 9th floor by his own uncle.

The LGBT Network in Russia had set up a hotline and was providing assistance to those in imminent danger. Thus far, they have managed to help 42 men flee the region, but it is unknown how many more of them remain at these camps. Families of those who have been in detention or have fled the region have been asked by Chechen authorities to cover up and not disclose any information about the involvement of state authorities.

Many individuals who have been released from these camps are not reporting their detention fearing backlash and are more focused on leaving the country. Lithuania thus far is the only country which has agreed to grant asylum to those fleeing the region, with some individuals having fled to Moscow. The USA has denied visa to those seeking refuge, and sources from the White House claim that President Trump is probably not aware of the ongoing horrors in Chechnya, reported the Independent. British PM Theresa May, only recently released a statement condemning the happenings in Chenchya, more than a month after the news of the concentration camps first emerged. On the visit to Russia, German Chancellor Angela Merkel too raised concerned during her meeting with President Putin.

After initially denying the existence of these camps and as a result of global backlash, the Kremlin has now set up a Russian Investigative Committee to look into the matter. The Committee visited an alleged site where individuals were being held, but upon reaching found that it had been destroyed and reduced to debris. It is suspected that the locations of these camps is being changed and that the ‘purging’ is ongoing, but in a covert fashion due to international and Russian pressure.

The Novaya Gazeta also reported that Chechen police authorities have refused to assist the Russian Investigative Committee, despite the approval from Russian President Putin. Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov and his associates have denied allegations that gay men are being detained and tortured in the region; with the president also claiming that the reports were an ‘April Fool’s’ joke. This despite the president having publically claimed that all LGBT+ people must be eliminated by 26th May, which marks the start of the holy month of Ramzan.

The efforts of Russia and President Putin in addressing the ongoing crisis in Chechnya are however, doubtful given the government and leader’s own anti – LGBT approach.

Human Rights Watch (HRW), an international organisation which has been recording Human Rights violations in the region has received information from trusted sources on the ground confirming the devastating developments in the country; news which was consistent with reports published by the Novaya Gazeta, reported Newsweek.

The report by Human Rights Watch offers substantial evidence that President Kadyrov is well aware of what was happening to Chechens suspected of being gay or belonging to the LGBT+ community. According to the report, second-in-command and Speaker of the Chechen Parliament - Magomed Daudov is known to have given approval to authorities to carry out the horrific ‘purging.’ According to the report, several detainees spotted Daudov at the detention sites, watching the police administer beatings and torture.

Three French LGBT+ rights groups have lodged a complaint with the International Criminal Court, accusing Chechen President and authorities of committing ‘genocide’ against members of the LGBT+ community. Chechnya will be withdrawing from the International Criminal Court, later this year in November.

Even though several countries and the United Nations have condemned the horrific events unfolding in Chechnya, the international community has been able to do little in securing the rights and safety of members of the LGBT community in Chechnya. A handful of Facebook campaigns have managed to raised over $250,000 for Rainbow Railroad, a non – profit organisation, helping victims escape detention and abuse at the hands of state authorities.

Members of the global LGBT+ community across the world have been registering their protest and support for the Chechen LBGT community by posting pictures of themselves kissing, on various social media platforms using #kiss4lgbtqrights and geo – tagging their location as Kremlin in Moscow.

At present the number of individuals being held at the detention centres and those who have lost their lives as a result of torture are unknown. It is also unknown if the attacks on members of the LGBT community in Chechen have worsened following President Kadyro’s call for ‘eliminating’ members from the community, before the beginning of the Muslim festival of Ramzan, since most media in the country is state run.