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High-ranking Chechen officials 'humiliated gay detainees'

Human rights activists have said senior officials in Chechnya humiliated people being held and tortured at detention centres during an anti-gay purge.

The claims came in a report released by Human Rights Watch, detailing a purge which it said took place in the first week of April in the Russian federal republic.

The group said it had spoken to six former detainees who said Chechen officials, including two high-level figures, visited the unofficial prisons and humiliated the inmates, who were allegedly held illegally.

In April, the newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported that gay men in Chechnya had been tortured and killed by police.

The Associated Press last month spoke to two victims of the crackdown who supported these claims.

Although Chechen officials have denied the reports, federal investigators have been dispatched there to conduct a probe.

The rights group said no new detentions have been reported in recent weeks but several men remain in detention.

LGBT activists have helped about 40 gay men who fled Chechnya to other Russian regions. Many seek asylum abroad.

Lithuania's foreign minister last week said the Baltic nation had given refuge to two gay men from Chechnya.

The Chechen men "remain at great risk of being hounded by Chechen authorities or their own relatives as long as they remain in Russia", Human Rights Watch said.

Russian president Vladimir Putin earlier this month assured the country's human rights ombudswoman that he would speak with law enforcement officials about the reported torture of gay men.

Novaya Gazeta wrote earlier this week that federal investigators dispatched to Chechnya have faced sabotage by local law enforcement officials allegedly involved in the anti-gay purge.

In a sign that the government might be taking the reports seriously, Igor Sobol, the federal investigator dispatched to Chechnya, has been promoted to a top position, permanently based there.

The Russian programme director of Human Rights Watch, Tanya Lokshina, said: "Russia's federal investigation into the abductions, torture, and humiliation of people presumed to be gay in Chechnya should be thorough and investigators should bring perpetrators to account."

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