MOSCOW — Two men from Chechnya have told Reuters they were detained by police and subjected to torture and beatings because they were gay, which is considered a crime by some in their deeply conservative region of Russia.
The two have since fled mainly Muslim Chechnya, but they still fear being hunted down and persecuted. They spoke to Reuters on condition that their real names were not used, and their voices and faces disguised.
One of the men, who gave his name as Anzor, said he had been detained by police as he was driving in the company of other men from a Chechen village to the Caucasus region's capital Grozny in February.
"They found some medicine on one of the guys," he said. Seeing his rings and bracelets, the policemen asked if he was "a f----t" and beat him severely, the man said in an interview.
"Then they ... forced me to tie a cable to my little toe and to my little finger. I was forced to do it myself, to attach the wires. And then they started using electric shocks," he said.
The accounts that the two men gave could not be independently verified by Reuters. They fit in, however, with a pattern of persecution described by other sources.
Chechnya's Moscow-backed president Ramzan Kadyrov denies human rights are routinely flouted in the region. His spokesman has said there could be no attacks on gay men because there were no such people in Chechnya.
The Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported in April that authorities in Chechnya had rounded up over 100 gay men or men believed to be gay and tortured them. At least three of the men had been killed, the newspaper reported.
Kremlin critics regarded the report as further evidence that Moscow allows authorities in Chechnya to run the region -- which has been consumed by two wars since the 1991 disintegration of the Soviet Union -- as a feudal fiefdom in exchange for keeping separatist and radical Islamist sentiment suppressed.
The second Chechen man, who gave his name as Ramzan, said he had been detained by police in April and told to give the names, addresses and work places of his gay contacts. He was beaten when he declined to obey, he said.
He was saved from more serious torture by saying that one of his uncles was a law enforcement officer, he said. But that put his life in danger after police handed him over to relatives who handcuffed him to a radiator in a village house.
"There was only one thing left to do: to get rid of me. Because it was such a shame for a military family, for a rather big family. We (in Chechnya) have only one way to resolve this."
He said he managed to escape with the help of his sister.
Nikita Safronov, a Moscow-based LGBTQ activist, said almost 100 people from Chechnya had already got in touch via an LGBTQ-network hotline, and that more than 40 of them had been "evacuated". Some had already left Russia, he added.