Image via AP

A month after reports emerged of gay Chechen men being rounded up and sent to a prison camp in the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, a group of men who say they are survivors of the camps are speaking out.

One man, whose name was withheld over safety concerns, spoke to France 24 from a safe house at an undisclosed location.

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“We’ve always been persecuted but never like this,” he says. “Now they arrest everyone. They kill people, they do whatever they want. They know that nobody will come after them because the order has come from above to ‘cleanse the nation’ of people like us.”

The men said they had been held in secret prisons and tortured, in line with reports from human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch and The Russian LGBT Network.

“They torture people using electricity and deprive them of food,” the survivor says. “Many resisted but they beat them horribly. They gave them electric shocks. They always got what they wanted.”

He says the men’s families are then being brought into the camps and their parents ordered to kill their sons.

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“They say ‘Either you do it, or we will. They call it: ‘Cleaning your honour with blood.’ They tortured a man for two weeks then they summoned his parents and brothers who all came. Police said to them: ‘Your son is a homosexual – sort it out or we’ll do it ourselves.’”

The Chechen government continues to deny the existence of the camps because, as press secretary Alvi Karimov previously stated, “You cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic.”

“If such people existed in Chechnya, law enforcement would not have to worry about them since their own relatives would have sent them to where they could never return,” he continued.

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Russian authorities advised people being held and tortured to “file official complaints.” Earlier this week, The Indepedent reports, police in St. Petersburg arrested LGBTQ activists protesting the camps during a May Day march.