The U.S. government is denying visas to gay men being persecuted by authorities in Chechnya, according to a Russian LGBTQ rights group trying to broker their escape from the region.
A spokesperson for the Russia LGBT Network, Svetlana Zakharova, told BuzzFeed News on Wednesday that roughly 40 Chechen men are in hiding in Russia after escaping prison camps in Chechnya, where they were being held and tortured. She said securing visas for them to flee to other countries is proving difficult and that the U.S. has denied their requests.
Zakharova told BuzzFeed News in an email on Wednesday, “we were informed that the U.S. is not going to issue visas for people from Chechnya.”
The persecution of gay men in Chechnya first came to light in April, when Russian independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta broke news of people being rounded up and sent to prison camps. The reports were corroborated by human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, who called on the Russian government and world leaders to take action. France 24 then interviewed some of the men who said they had escaped from the camps, who claimed they had been tortured using electricity and beaten.
Chechen authorities have denied the reports because, according to a spokesperson for Chechen authoritarian leader Ramzan Kadyrov, “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.”
Update, 3:04 P.M.: A state department official told Fusion that the U.S. government “continues to be concerned about the situation in the Republic of Chechnya” and that the department is “deeply disturbed by public statements from Chechen authorities that condone and incite violence against LGBTI persons.”
The official said they could not comment on whether or not visas had been denied to Chechens because “visa records are confidential under U.S. law, we are unable to discuss individual cases.”
“More broadly, we are working with international human rights organizations and other international partners to explore appropriate mechanisms to respond to this troubling situation,” the official said.