Chechnya gay rights activists detained protesting alleged torture of homosexual men

In this photo provided by Russian activist and journalist Nikita Safronov, demonstrators take a selfie inside a police van after being detained in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, May 11, 2017.

Nikita Safronov / AP

MOSCOW -- Several activists were detained in Moscow on Thursday as they prepared to submit signatures they have collected to protest arbitrary detentions and torture of gay men in Chechnya.

The abuse was first reported in April by the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which said about 100 suspected gay men were rounded up and tortured, and at least three were killed. The Associated Press separately interviewed two Chechen men who spoke of torture and corroborated the reports.

LGBT activist Igor Yasin said five people were detained in the morning outside the Prosecutor General's Office as they brought about 2 million signatures collected to protest the treatment of gay people in Chechnya in Russia's south.

The New York-based civic group Avaaz, which helped collect the signatures worldwide, said in a statement that one of the people detained Thursday morning is an Italian activist. Avaaz's campaign director, Bert Wander, described the detentions as a "blatant attempt by Russia to intimidate those standing up for gay people (which) will only draw more global attention to the horrors unfolding in Chechnya."

President Vladimir Putin last week assured the country's human rights ombudswoman that he would speak with law enforcement officials about the reported torture of gay men. Tatyana Moskalkova, the ombudswoman, has asked for a taskforce to be formed to investigate the treatment of gays in this predominantly Muslim region.