Novaya Gazeta reported systematic persecution of gay men in Chechnya – and now fears ‘retribution’.
The Russian daily Novaya Gazeta says it is alarmed by a Chechen Muslim call for “retribution” after the paper reported violence against gay men in Chechnya.
Chechen Muslim clerics met on 3 April, two days after the paper’s revelations, and said the report had insulted their faith and the dignity of Chechen men.
“Retribution will catch up with the true instigators, wherever and whoever they are,” their resolution said.
Novaya Gazeta says it amounts to a call for “reprisals against journalists”.
“We urge the Russian authorities to do everything possible to prevent actions aimed at inciting hatred and enmity towards journalists, who are doing their professional duty,” the paper said.
On 1 April it reported that more than 100 people had been detained in Chechnya on suspicion of being homosexual, and that at least three had been killed.
The Russian LGBT Network, in touch with victims in Chechnya, told the BBC that the report was true.
Homophobia is rife in the mainly Muslim North Caucasus republic. Authoritarian leader Ramzan Kadyrov is fiercely loyal to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
A spokeswoman for the LGBT Network said detainees were tortured with electric shocks and beatings at a prison near Argun, 20km (13 miles) from the city of Grozny.
“All the people arrested are homosexual men or perceived as being gay,” said Natalia Poplevskaya.
Ramzan Kadyrov has denied the allegations, calling them “lies”. His spokesman Alvi Karimov said there were no gay people in Chechnya.
The Chechens’ spiritual leader, Mufti Salah-haji Mezhiev, confirmed that “retribution” was part of the resolution adopted at the special Muslim meeting in Grozny on 3 April.
“There will be retribution!” he told the Russian news website RBC. “Allah will punish those who slandered the whole Chechen nation and Chechen Republic’s clerics.”
Novaya Gazeta’s 1 April report said the detainees included some influential Muslim clerics close to Mr Kadyrov, and two well-known Chechen TV presenters.
In an open letter to the mufti, the paper’s chief editor Dmitry Muratov said his journalists would continue investigating human rights abuses in Chechnya.
“We did not insult – nor had we the slightest intention to insult – the Chechen people,” he wrote, urging dialogue.
Chechens have been linked to two murders of Novaya Gazeta reporters who investigated crimes in Chechnya – Anna Politkovskaya and Natalia Estemirova.
But much remains unclear about those contract killings, and that of Boris Nemtsov, an opposition politician who was shot dead in Moscow in 2015 and also exposed corruption and organised crime in Chechnya.
The LGBT Network says it is helping people to flee the persecution in Chechnya and accuses the Russian authorities of ignoring the abuses.
If Russia fails to prosecute anyone, it says it will file a case at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.