April 11, 2017 at 3:12 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
State Dept. mum on gay ‘concentration camps’ in Chechnya

The State Department has not publicly commented on reports that gay men in Chechnya have been detained in camps that have been described as “concentration camps”
(Photo by AgnosticPreachersKid; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

The State Department has yet to publicly comment on authorities in Chechnya sending gay men to secret prisons that have been described as “concentration camps.”

The Washington Blade was unable to ask Acting Spokesperson Mark Toner about the issue during a telephone briefing on Tuesday. He did not talk about the Chechen prisons with reporters before the call ended.

Toner on April 7 released a statement in which he expressed concern about the arrest of at least 100 gay men in the semi-autonomous Russian republic.

Novaya Gazeta, a Russian newspaper, has reported at least three of the men who were arrested were later killed. A State Department spokesperson on Monday referred the Washington Blade to Toner’s statement in response to a request for comment on the prisons about which Novaya Gazeta reported last week.

“We are increasingly concerned about the situation in the republic of Chechnya, where there have been numerous credible reports indicating the detention of at least 100 men on the basis of their sexual orientation,” said Toner. “Some reports indicate many of those arrested have been tortured, in some cases leading to death. We categorically condemn the persecution of individuals based on their sexual orientation or any other basis.”

“We are deeply disturbed by recent public statements by Chechen authorities that condone and incite violence against LGBTI persons,” he added. “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.”

Haley urged to condemn prisons

Toner spoke with reporters hours after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in Moscow.

Tillerson is expected to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and other officials on Wednesday. Toner said the Kremlin has yet to invite Tillerson to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“If there is an invitation to meet with Putin, of course he will do so,” said Toner. “He’s certainly willing to meet with President Putin to discuss all of these issues.”

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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in Moscow on April 11, 2017. It remains unclear whether he will discuss the arrest of more than 100 gay men in Chechnya while in the Russian capital. (Photo by Dmitry Azovtsev via Wikimedia Commons)

GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis on Tuesday asked U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley to publicly condemn the arrest of gay Chechen men and the prisons into which they have been detained.

“It is beyond horrific for a country to proactively target, arrest and abuse LGBTQ people,” said Ellis in a statement. “U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley must condemn this humanitarian crisis. As the leader of the free world, we can’t watch in silence as the world slips back to an era we should never go back to.”

A spokesperson for the U.S. Mission to the U.N. referred the Blade to the statement that Toner released on April 7.

“We obviously support it,” said the spokesperson in an email.

The spokesperson did not refer to the prisons.

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

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