Five activists were recently detained in Moscow while attempting to deliver a petition of over two million signatures to the Office of the Prosecutor General, who oversees Russian federal investigations. The petition was to demand an investigation into reports of kidnapping, mass illegal detention, torture and resulting deaths of gay residents of Chechnya. Police state the activists were detained for unsanctioned protest.
Russian citizens have the right to hold peaceful assembly under Article 31 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation adopted in 1993. The article was undermined by a law passed in 2014, which makes it illegal to participate in protests, rallies, or demonstrations without prior approval of the appropriate authorities. The punishment for which is a fine, 15 days detention, or as much as five years in prison for a third conviction. Citizens are barred from holding rallies whatsoever if they have been convicted of the law twice in the past year.
According to witness accounts collected via hotline by Chechen independent newspaper Novaya Gazette, gay residents of Chechnya have been taken and illegally detained in secret prisons in the town of Argun. While imprisoned, the men were interrogated, violently tortured, shocked, and forced to beat one another. Chechen officials stated that such reports were impossible, as there are no gay people living in Chechnya.
Chechen officials did not deny the accusations of kidnap, torture, and in some cases, the murder of a number of groups including gay residents of Chechnya, drug addicts, and extremists. The same officials questioned why the Novaya Gazette did not publish names associated with the reports. The Novaya Gazette responded that they did not want to risk undue prosecution against the witnesses nor those that had been imprisoned by revealing their personal details.
The campaign to gather signatures was carried out by three Russian activist groups along with international assistance from online activist groups All Out, Avaaz, and Change.org. The activists have since been released, but many gay residents and those detained in Chechen prisons have been forced to flee Chechnya for fear of further prosecution and from threats against their families.
Russian President Vladimir Putin was inactive on the issue until being pressured by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Putin referred to the reports of illegal detainment and torture made to the Novaya Gazette as rumors but has ordered an investigation to take place.