Amid calls for the Russian government to investigate reports of an anti-gay purge in the ultra-conservative Republic of Chechnya, Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman said on Friday that the Kremlin has not been able to confirm that the targeted violence is taking place.
Dmitry Peskov told journalists: "We do not have any reliable information about any problems in this area." But he said the reports should nevertheless be checked, without giving details of any planned investigation.
Chechen authorities have furiously denied reports made earlier this month by the respected Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which said that over 100 gay men had been abducted by state authorities, and that at least three men had been killed.
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov's spokesman, Alvi Karimov, was cited by Russia's Interfax news agency as saying the reports of a anti-gay purge were "absolute lies and disinformation," saying there were no gay men in Chechnya to be persecuted.
"It is impossible to detain and oppress that which simply does not exist in the republic," Karimov said.
Several international organizations including United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have called for a thorough Russian investigation into the claims.
The Russian office of Amnesty International joined the chorus on Friday, saying the Kremlin must investigate human rights violations in the Muslim-majority republic of Russia.
Novaya Gazeta said on Friday it was concerned for its journalists after Muslim clerics in Chechnya met earlier this month and promised "retribution" for the "true instigators" of the reports.
Dmitry Muratov, Novaya's editor, described their comments as an incitement to violence.
"This resolution is encouraging religious fanatics to retaliate against our journalists," he said in a statement, calling on support from authorities to protect his journalists.
More testimony emerges
The Guardian newspaper on Friday published an interview with a Chechen man who claimed to have been subject to the anti-gay purge.
The man told the British paper that he and a dozen other men were tortured on a daily basis and subjected to verbal abuse for being gay.
"Sometimes they were trying to get information from me; other times they were just amusing themselves," said the man, whose name was given as Adam.
The Guardian also cited St Petersburg-based gay rights activists Igor Kochetkov who said "dozens" of people had been in touch with an emergency contact center for affected gay men in Chechnya.
Around 100 people joined a protest in Belfast on Friday against the Chechen government round-up, other rallies were held in several European cities including Berlin earlier in the week.