A Russian government official on Tuesday dismissed reports that gay men are being rounded up and tortured in prison camps in Chechnya.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the same Russian official who met with President Trump in the Oval Office earlier this month just one day after former FBI Director James Comey was fired—a meeting from which all reporters were barred except one photographer from Russia’s state media agency—said there are no “concrete” facts about the human rights abuses.
“We don’t see one concrete fact either about hackers or about some secret probes into election meddling in almost every Western country, or on the issue of accusations of rights abuses of LGBT representatives in Chechnya,” Lavrov told AFP.
“If there are facts, if there are surnames then our answers will be concrete. But I repeat that we have no relation to the majority of the allegations,” he said.
The comments came after newly-elected French President Emmanuel Macron pressured Russian President Vladimir Putin during a Monday meeting to investigate reports of gay men being imprisoned and tortured in prison camps
Meanwhile, the U.S. government is reportedly denying requests for asylum from Chechen men fleeing the Russian Federation after escaping the camps, according to Russian LGBTQ rights activists.
Chechnya, a federal subject of Russia, is ruled by authoritarian leader Ramzan Kadyrov. Chechen officials have denied the existence of the prison camps, claiming they can’t exist because they believe there are no LGBTQ people in Chechnya.
The Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta was the first to write about the rounding up of gay Chechen men in April. Their reports were quickly corroborated by human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Russian LGBT Network.
Some of the men have spoken with press on the condition of anonymity because they still fear for their lives and their families’ safety. They say they can’t go to police in Chechnya for fear of retaliation.
“We’ve always been persecuted but never like this,” one survivor told France 24, adding that police are the ones rounding men up and intimidating their families. “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.”