A State Department spokesperson on July 11, 2017, described reports that authorities in Chechnya killed more than two dozen people who were arrested without charge as "troubling." Photo by AgnosticPreachersKid; courtesy Wikimedia Commons

State Department: Chechnya Extrajudicial Killings Are 'Troubling'

BY MICHAEL K. LAVERS, WASHINGTON BLADE

A State Department spokesperson on Tuesday expressed concern over reports that authorities in Chechnya killed more than two dozen people who were arrested without charge earlier this year.

Novaya Gazeta, an independent Russian newspaper, on Sunday published the names of 27 men who it said authorities shot to death in the Chechen capital of Grozny on Jan. 26.

The Washington Blade has not been able to confirm reports that some of the men who were reportedly killed were gay. The Russian LGBT Network, a Moscow-based advocacy group, on Tuesday said "as far as we [are] concerned, the list of names that appeared in that publication (Novaya Gazeta) does not include homosexual people."

"We are aware of troubling reports that security forces in the Republic of Chechnya summarily executed more than two dozen people in January," the State Department spokesperson told the Blade in a statement. "We urge the Russian government to conduct an independent and credible investigation into the allegations."

The Moscow Times on Monday reported Dmitry Peskov, a spokesperson for Russian President Vladimir Putin, told reporters the Kremlin has "taken note of [the reports.]"

"We have similarly taken note of the denials of this information by Chechen law enforcement bodies," said Peskov, according to the Moscow Times.

Chechnya is a predominantly Muslim, semi-autonomous Russian republic in the North Caucuses.

Novaya Gazeta in April reported Chechen authorities have arrested more than 100 men because of their sexual orientation -- or perceived sexual orientation -- since the beginning of the year. A number of these men have reportedly died after their arrest, while others have been beaten and tortured and sent to secret prisons.

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, who is a close Putin ally, and the Kremlin have sought to downplay or even dismiss these reports.

The Russian LGBT Network -- which is providing assistance to gay Chechens who have fled their homeland -- has expressed skepticism over the Russian government's claims it has begun to investigate the crackdown.

The Russian LGBT Network on Tuesday said "persecutions of LGBT people (have) started again." BuzzFeed last week reported Chechen authorities have once again begun to detain gay men.

"We know that both the victims and their relatives have experienced threats," said the Russian LGBT Network in its press release. "The authorities are threatening to press criminal charges against them based on false accusations."

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are among those who have condemned the ongoing crackdown against gay men in Chechnya. President Trump -- who met with Putin last Friday during the G20 summit in the German city of Hamburg -- has yet to publicly comment on it.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last month told Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing that he has not discussed the crackdown with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov or anyone else from the Kremlin. The State Department spokesperson on Tuesday did not immediately respond to the Blade's question about whether Tillerson raised Chechnya with Russian officials during the G20 summit.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. This article originally appeared in the Washington Blade and is made available in partnership with the National Gay Media Association.
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