Russia police have arrested LGBTQ activists for demonstrating against the persecution of gay men in Chechnya.
Part of a May Day march in St Petersburg, activists had been lying on streets, covered in fake blood, rainbow flags and Chechen flags, while a separate group carried placards demanding that Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov be tried in the International Court of Justice.
Social media showed activists being dragged from the demonstration into police vans by officers in riot gear, the Independent reports.
The activists were protesting the treatment of gay men in Chechnya, with reports that more than 100 men have been attacked, blackmailed, kidnapped, imprisoned, tortured and even murdered in a state-sanctioned purge.
Chechen leaders have denied that gay men are being persecuted, with the Chechen Interior Ministry calling the reports an “April fools’ joke.” A press secretary for Kadyrov refuted that there were even any gay people in Chechnya.
“If there were such people in Chechnya, law-enforcement agencies wouldn’t need to have anything to do with them,” the press secretary said, “because their relatives would send them somewhere from which there is no returning.”
Last week,Yahoo! News’ Katie Couric pressed a Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman for a response to the attacks on gay men.
“No, no, no. This is not my issue,” Maria Zakharova responded. “I’m not a specialist in that.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin has also come out in support of the Chechen government’s denial of any actions against gay men in the region. “We have no reason not to trust the head of the republic,” Putin’s spokesperson said.
United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley has promised that the U.S. will work to end the purge taking place in Chechnya.
In a statement, Haley said: “If true, this violation of human rights cannot be ignored — Chechen authorities must immediately investigate these allegations, hold everyone involved accountable, and take steps to prevent future abuses.”
It comes amidst growing condemnation of the situation in Chechnya. Sen. Marco Rubio called Kadyrov “ruthless” and a “brutal tyrant,” and accused Putin of propping up Kadyrov and “his brutal regime instead of holding them accountable.”
“We should use our voice on the global stage to call attention to these horrifying acts and to ensure they are condemned in the appropriate way, and ultimately in the hopes that they will be stopped,” Rubio said.
In her first major political speech since her election loss in November, former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton demanded that the Trump administration do more to pressure Russia to stop the crimes against gay men.
Reiterating that “gay rights are human rights,” Clinton said: “The United States government — yes, this government — should demand an end to the persecution of innocent people.”
Clinton also warned that the Trump administration couldn’t be counted on to protect LGBTQ rights.
“The progress that we fought for, that many of you were on the front lines of, and that we’ve celebrated and maybe even taken for granted, may not be as secure as we once expected,” she said.