Rights group says Chechen officials humiliated gay detainees

High-level officials in Russia's Chechnya humiliated inmates during visits to detention facilities where gay people were allegedly held and tortured, Human Rights Watch said in a new report Friday.

In April, the newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported that gay men in Chechnya had been tortured and killed by police. The Associated Press last month spoke to two victims of the crackdown who supported the claims. Although Chechen officials have denied the reports, federal investigators have been dispatched to conduct an investigation.

Human Rights Watch said it had spoken to six former detainees who said Chechen officials, including two high-level ones, visited the unofficial prisons and humiliated the inmates. The rights group said no new detentions have been reported in recent weeks but several men appeared to remain in detention.

LGBT activists have helped about 40 gay men who fled Chechnya to other Russian regions. Many seek asylum abroad. Lithuania's foreign minister last week said the Baltic nation had given refuge to two gay men from Chechnya.

The Chechen men "remain at great risk of being hounded by Chechen authorities or their own relatives as long as they remain in Russia," Human Rights Watch said.

President Vladimir Putin earlier this month assured the country's human rights ombudswoman that he would speak with law enforcement officials about the reported torture of gay men.

Novaya Gazeta wrote earlier this week that federal investigators dispatched to Chechnya have faced sabotage by local law enforcement officials allegedly involved in the anti-gay purge. In a sign that the government might be taking the reports seriously, Igor Sobol, the federal investigator dispatched to Chechnya, has been promoted to a top position permanently based there.

"Russia's federal investigation into the abductions, torture, and humiliation of people presumed to be gay in Chechnya should be thorough and investigators should bring perpetrators to account," said the Russia program director at Human Rights Watch, Tanya Lokshina.