The Kremlin has said they have seen no evidence of violence against gay men in Chechnya, decrying 'phantom complaints' in the media.
The Kremlin said Thursday that reports of violence against homosexuals in Chechnya had not been confirmed and that "phantom complaints" to the media should instead be taken to the police.
The comments come a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin met Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, who dismissed "provocative articles" about gay men being rounded up in Chechnya and families who are encouraged to perform honour killings.
"So far we have not heard any confirmation to this information," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.
"We know that when the law is broken, the citizen goes and complains to the police," he responded when a journalist noted that media outlets had spoken to such victims. "Where are they? There are no people... Who are these people? Where do they live?"
"These are some phantom complaints, absolutely depersonalised," Peskov said. "What are they afraid of, that they will be taken under protection?"
LGBT activists in Russia say they have been working to evacuate gay men from the southern Islamic territory to Moscow further north, and have said they will work with international partners to get men out of the country altogether.
The Russia LGBT Network says about 60 people had asked to be evacuated over a period of less than three weeks.
Many have little confidence authorities will keep their identities secret, with men in the region telling SBS they feared violence from their own friends and families if it was discovered they were gay.
“The last thing that people want to do is give their names," International Crisis Group Russia Director Ekaterina Sokirianskaia told SBS Sexuality on Tuesday, "they are afraid their names will become public and their families will be targeted.”
Originally reports of the crackdown in the region were coming indirectly, Ms Sokirianskaia said, but evacuees were now giving first-hand accounts.
AFP has spoken to several Chechens currently in hiding in Moscow after fleeing the conservative Caucasus region where authorities have falsely claimed that gay people do not exist.
The men said they were beaten and detained in unofficial prisons, and had fled the region because they were terrified of both the authorities and their own relatives.
'All it would take is a phone call from Putin'
Russia's prosecutor general said Monday that it was looking into the claims - the journalist who broke the story told SBS she would defy death threats to stay in the country and speak with investigators.
“I was the first one who started the situation, who published the story. I’m the one who should be questioned first,” Elena Milashina told SBS by phone on Tuesday.
There is hope among activists that federal Russian authorities will move to rein in the government in the Chechen territory.
“All it would take is a phone call from Putin,” Ms Sokirianskaia told SBS Sexuality, “Putin is the only one who have leverage over the regime in Grozny.”
Journalists at the Novaya Gazeta newspaper who broke the story, which included reporting on the deaths of three gay men in Chechnya, said they have received threats.
On Thursday, the newspaper said it had received two letters addressed to the editor-in-chief and his deputy with the return address "Grozny 666666" that contained white powder.
Novaya Gazeta called in the police and chemical experts, who said the powder was not dangerous and collected it for examination.
Human rights organisations and several countries, as well as the United Nations and the European Union, have called on Russian authorities to investigate the reports.
The investigative journalist who broke the story told SBS that sustained pressure from independent media within the country, and mounting international pressure from other countries, had led to the investigation announced Monday.
“It’s a result of pressure that we all together put on the Russia government,” Ms Milashina said.
“I think the international pressure was first in this situation that helped.”
- with AFP