April 5, 2017 at 12:45 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
State Dept. urges Russia to investigate gay Chechen men’s arrests

The State Department has urged the Russian government to investigate the reported arrests of more than 100 gay men in Chechnya. (Photo by AgnosticPreachersKid; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

A State Department spokesperson on Wednesday urged the Russian government to investigate the reported arrests of more than 100 gay men in Chechnya.

“We urge the Russian government to conduct an independent and credible investigation into the alleged killings and mass arrests and hold the perpetrators responsible,” the spokesperson told the Washington Blade in a statement.

Novaya Gazeta, a Russian newspaper, on April 1 reported authorities in the semi-autonomous Russian republic have arrested more than 100 men in “connection with their non-traditional sexual orientation, or suspicion of such.” The article noted at least three of the men who were arrested were later killed.

“We are aware of troubling reports that local authorities in the republic of Chechnya have arrested or detained more than 100 men, as well as reports that three of those detained were killed,” said the State Department spokesperson. “We condemn violence against any individuals based on their sexual orientation or any other basis.”

A spokesperson for the Russian government acknowledged the Kremlin “knows” about the situation, but “it is a question of law enforcement agencies.” Ali Karimov, a spokesperson for Chechnya’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, told RIA Novosti, a Russian government news agency, in a statement that it is “impossible to prosecute those who are not in the republic.”

“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,” said Karimov.

“We were likewise deeply disturbed by local authorities statements that apparently condone and even incite violence against LGBTI persons,” the State Department spokesperson told the Blade.

Tillerson to meet with Russian foreign minister

The Russian LGBT Network has established a hotline that Chechens who feel threatened by the arrests can call anonymously. Reports indicate the organization has begun to evacuate people from the Russian republic.

Shawn Gaylord of Human Rights First on Monday urged Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to publicly condemn the reported arrests.

“What is happening to gay men in Chechnya is a horrific violation of human rights and the rule of law,” said Gaylord. “The United States can not stand idly by while innocent people are being rounded up, detained and murdered by authorities. Secretary Tillerson should immediately and forcefully speak out against these abuses, and demand the release of all gay Chechens who remain unlawfully detained.”

The State Department on Wednesday announced Tillerson will travel to Moscow on April 12.

He is scheduled to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and other Kremlin officials. The State Department said Tillerson will discuss North Korea, the Syrian civil war, Ukraine and other issues with them.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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