Over 100 gay men have been rounded up and detained by police in Chechnya, and three have been killed as part of the sweep, a Russian newspaper has reported.

The victims reportedly range from reporters and religious leaders to men who are merely suspected of being homosexual, a highly taboo subject in the conservative, Muslim-majority semi-autonomous region.

Chechnya’s president Ramzan Kadyrov, speaking through a spokesperson, denies the accusations, on the basis that gay people simply do not exist in Chechnya. And, if they did, their families would either kill or disown them anyway.

“You cannot detain and persecute people who simply do not exist in the republic,” said Alvi Karimov, spokesperson for the president. “If there were such people in Chechnya, the law-enforcement organs wouldn’t need to have anything to do with them because their relatives would send them somewhere from which there is no returning.”