In his recent interview with the U.S. cable network HBO, Chechnya’s strongman Ramzan Kadyrov dismissed the anti-gay-purge allegations as nonsense, denied the very existence of gay people in this southern Russian region with a population of over one million, and candidly promised to “put the whole world on its knees and screw it from behind.”

His brazen comments may have shocked international audiences, but the Kremlin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told journalists on July 17 that “nothing out of the ordinary has been said.”

Sadly, Peskov is right — Kadyrov has been making outrageous, despicable statements for years, and this one is not much different. Kadyrov is known to publicly condone honor killings, order house-burnings, and openly threaten Russian pro-democracy politicians, journalists, and human rights defenders. Some of those threatened were later killed, and there has been no justice for these murders.

A Long History

July 15 was the eighth anniversary of the chilling murder of Natalia Estemirova, a courageous Chechen activist and journalist, and my dear friend. The investigation into her murder stalled long ago, though there are very strong grounds to suspect the involvement of Chechen security officials under Kadyrov’s control.

Just a few days ago, a court in Moscow ruled on the murder case of Boris Nemtsov, the prominent opposition leader and former deputy prime minister of Russia brazenly killed just outside the Kremlin’s walls 2.5 years ago. Five defendants, all of them of Chechen origin, received long prison sentences, but the masterminds have gone unmentioned and unpunished.

The scandalous large scale “cleansing” operation against gay people in Chechnya, which has not faded from international headlines, was launched by Chechen authorities in the last week of February this year. It went on for about six weeks with a brief lull in mid-March.

During that time, local security officials rounded up dozens of men on suspicion of being gay, held them in secret detention for days, humiliated, starved, and tortured them. Most returned home barely alive from beatings and electrocutions. Their captors exposed them to their families as gay and encouraged their relatives to carry out honor killings.

About 60 victims and people otherwise affected by the purge have fled Chechnya with the assistance of the Russian LGBT Network NGO. Some of them have found safety abroad. Others are hiding in not-so-safe houses in central Russia. Human Rights Watch, other rights groups, and international journalists interviewed numerous former detainees. Their powerful and consistent testimonies leave no doubt as to the veracity of the allegations.

Reports of the anti-gay purge have caused public outrage across the world. Protest rallies were held in several major capitals. German Chancellor Angela Merkel personally raised the issue with President Vladimir Putin.The foreign ministers of France, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK, and Sweden sent a joint letter to Russia’s foreign minister urging the Russian government to ensure an effective investigation into the allegations.