THEY are rounded up in the dead of night by gangs of burly and bearded mercenaries, taken from their beds or nabbed in raids on secretive underground gay social clubs.
Phones are searched and other suspected homosexuals are hunted down, with some of them used in entrapment-style sting operations to find more and more of the so-called ‘depraved’.
These captured men — at least 100 of them so far, but probably more — are taken to old military or police buildings which have been described as “modern day concentration camps” by human rights groups.
Beatings, indefinite detention, electrocution, emotional abuse and bizarre forced quasi-sexual acts have been reported from these horrific prisons in the republic of Chechnya.
It’s the first time since World War II and Hitler’s Third Reich that homosexual men have been rounded up and kept in camps.
Most of the men hunted by Chechnyan forces are blackmailed and forced to pay large ransoms for their freedom.
Exactly how long Chechnya’s purge of gay men has been going on is unclear. Who continues to sanction and support it is also shrouded in mystery.
But the Novaya Gazeta expose named the Speaker of the Parliament of Chechnya, Magomed Daudov, better known by his nickname “Lord”, as being among officials to visit the site.
International attention has also turned to regional leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who not only rejects the existence of the camps but denies there are any gay people in the disputed territory at all.
If there were, they would essentially be exiled anyway, Kadyrov said.
The Kremlin has denied any knowledge of the purge but one Russian newspaper described it as part of a campaign “in connection with their non-traditional sexual orientation, or suspicion of such”.
The level of organisation, number of perpetrators and access to state-owned buildings and resources suggests high-level involvement, western media have speculated.
One identified concentration camp was in a disused military command compound in the town of Argun. It has since moved.
A survivor of that camp said he was held in proximity to detainees who have suspected ties to Syria — people who had fought in the war-torn region or had information about security matters.
“We sat in a large stone room with other prisoners,” he told Novaya Gazeta.
“In this room, we were given a small piece in the corner, about two to three meters, beyond which we were not allowed to go out. We sat there for days, weeks, some — for months.
“Three times a day we were taken to the bathroom — a separate room on the street.
“Also, several times a day we were taken and beaten. It’s called questioning, prevention, development — as you wish. The main task they had (was) to find out your network of contacts.”
Mobile phones were kept on while the men were detained, so any lovers or gay friends who phoned or messaged could be rounded up too.
The surviving prisoner said he had seen another man beaten so horrifically and continually that he was almost dead.
Relatives were called to collect him, but in a region with a majority hard-line Islamic population and a deeply conservative attitude, few loved ones are willing to come.
“He was sent to relatives, but after some time it became known that he was buried,” the man said.
After the expose, Novaya Gazeta helped a Russian LGBT network set up a hotline for gay men to share their own experiences.
It was flooded with messages from people who had survived the camps.
People held for several days, men kidnapped by a kind of organised SWAT force and taken to camps where they were brutalised, and reports of dozens of other victims.
“People caught in Chechnya under persecution because of their sexual orientation, took to the contact through various channels,” the Gazeta reported.
The reports of Chechnya’s gay purge have attracted international attention and condemnation, with America’s Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley calling for an investigation.
“We continue to be disturbed by reports of kidnapping, torture, and murder of people in Chechnya based on their sexual orientation and those persecuted by association,” Ms Haley said in a statement.
Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of the LGBT rights group GLAAD, described it as a “humanitarian crisis”.
“It is beyond horrific for a country to proactively target, arrest, and abuse LGBT people,” Ms Ellis said.
“As the leader of the free world, (America) can’t watch in silence as the world slips back to an era we should never go back to.”
UK Foreign Office minister Baroness Anelay also called on Russia to investigate the mass detentions.
“The detention and ill-treatment of over 100 gay men in Chechnya is extremely concerning. Reports have also suggested that at least three of these men have been killed,” she said.
Human rights groups around the world have corroborated the reports, saying countless men had disappeared and those who did return were barely alive.
“For several weeks now, a brutal campaign against LGBT people has been sweeping through Chechnya,” a report by Human Rights Watch states.
The respected group even went so far as to point the finger of blame at Kadyrov.
“Law enforcement and security agency officials under control of the ruthless head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, have rounded up dozens of men on suspicion of being gay, torturing and humiliating the victims.”