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The United States has declined visas to gay Chechens fleeing a wave of kidnappings, torture, and disappearances in the semi-autonomous Russian region, according to the organization Russia LGBT Network.
A group of around 40 Chechens are now in hiding in other parts of Russia, Russia LGBT Network spokesperson Svetlana Zakharova told BuzzFeed News, and are having difficulty securing visas that would allow them to flee the country.
Since the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta first reported the abuse of dozens of gay Chechens in April, just two have managed to secure visas to safe countries despite the European Union and the United States expressing concern about the allegations, Zakharova said. A handful of gay Chechens have fled without visas because they believed the danger of staying in Russia was too great.
A US State Department spokesperson said in a statement provided on background that the department could not comment on the visa denials because, “As visa records are confidential under U.S. law, we are unable to discuss individual cases.”
Left with no way to get out, the gay men seeking visas continue to fear for their lives in Russia. The strongman who rules Chechnya with near impunity, Ramzan Kadyrov, is accused of having his critics hunted down both in other parts of Russia and outside Russia's borders.
Kadyrov has responded to the Novaya Gazeta reports — which have since been confirmed by human rights organizations and international news outlets — by denying such a crackdown could have taken place because Chechnya “does not have this phenomenon called non-traditional sexual orientation.” Several of the reporters involved in breaking the story left Russia in fear for their safety after a Kadyrov advisor called them “enemies of our faith and of our country” in a televised rally in April.
Zakharova told BuzzFeed News that “negotiations have been difficult” with representatives of countries that could provide safe refuge for survivors of the violence. She would not name the countries the organization was still trying to secure visas from because this could put any Chechens whose applications ultimately succeeded in danger, but she said in an email to BuzzFeed News on Tuesday that “we were informed that the US is not going to issue visas for people from Chechnya.”
The US State Department called on Russian authorities to investigate the allegations after they were first reported, including a statement from the US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, who said, “If true, this violation of human rights cannot be ignored.”
“The United States continues to be concerned about the situation in the Republic of Chechnya, where credible reports indicate at least 100 men have been detained on the basis of their sexual orientation,” the State Department spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.
Under mounting international pressure, Vladimir Putin agreed earlier this month to back an investigation, but a letter to Israel's Haaretz newspaper last week by the Russian Embassy to Israel suggested that investigation was concluded almost immediately and found “there are no victims of persecution, threats or violence.”