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.”

The newspaper which broke the story, Novaya Gazeta, has a reputation for delivering reliable news. Other human rights organizations in Russia have corroborated reports about abuses and detention of gay men in the capital of Grozny.

Chechnya has functioned as a semi-autonomous republic within Russia following decades of conflict with Russian government forces, including two major wars fought between the Russian military and Islamist militants. The First Chechen War in the mid-90s was more or less a disastrous defeat for the Russian military. Vladimir Putin led the second iteration of the war from late 1999 to early 2000 to much better effect, re-establishing Russian control over the region.

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A long insurgency period resulted following the Second Chechen War, and it’s believed Putin has allowed the strict laws imposed by Kadyrov, which reportedly transcend Russian laws, as a form of concession to help quell future conflict.

The population is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslims, and the strict adherence to religion has made Chechnya hostile to homosexuals. Families are reportedly shamed when they discover an openly gay relative.

A member of the Chechen president’s human rights council had this to say regarding LGBT human rights complaints: “In our Chechen society, any person who respects our traditions and culture will hunt down this kind of person without any help from authorities, and do everything to make sure that this kind of person does not exist in our society.”

Featured image courtesy of Reuters