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Why Russia Says It Can’t Find Any Gay Men in Chechnya

News Brief

Russia’s Justice Minister has taken the unusual step of asking for help tracking down members of Chechnya’s LGBTQ community, after investigators looking into human rights violations against them claimed they had failed to find anyone to talk to.

It comes as Russia’s human rights record has been attracting renewed scrutiny as it prepares to host the World Cup next month.

U.S.-based Human Rights Watch has urged the Russian government to repeal its controversial “anti-gay propaganda” law — blamed for a spate of attacks on LGBTQ individuals in Russia and other former Soviet states — and criticized restrictions on freedom of speech and the right of assembly.

The Justice Ministry said it had been trying to investigate reports that the Chechen authorities secretly imprisoned dozens of gay men in the southern Russian republic last year. More than 100 gay men were wrongfully detained by Chechen police and in some cases tortured and killed, according to an inquiry by the Novaya Gazeta newspaper.

But no one had come forward to be interviewed ministry officials complained. “Please, help us to do this — to find them,” said Justice Minister Alexander Konovalov as he addressed a recent United Nations Human Rights Council meeting.

Official attitudes in Chechnya towards the LGBTQ community have not been encouraging though. The Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, dismissed Novaya Gazeta’s findings, adding that there were “no gays” in Chechnya.

With Russia in the limelight as it prepares to host the World Cup, Human Rights Watch has taken the opportunity to step up the pressure on Moscow to do more to protect its LGBTQ community. In a report this week, it urged soccer’s governing body FIFA to ask Russia to repeal its “anti-gay propaganda” law before the competition gets underway.

The report also warned the media not to let the World Cup distract attention from Russia’s human rights record, highlighting legislation stifling freedom of speech and assembly, as well as the government’s support of Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria.

“We hope this guide helps reporters look beyond the football pitch to broader issues of concern in Russia,” said Hugh Williams, the group’s Europe and Central Asia director.

The report was published as thousands of people worldwide have been taking part in events on the annual International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, highlighting attacks and abuses aimed at the LGBTQ community.