(AP) Moscow wants to protect human rights but has no reason to believe reports about the persecution of gay men in Chechnya, Russian officials said on Monday.
The Novaya Gazeta newspaper earlier this month reported that police in the predominantly Muslim republic rounded up more than 100 men suspected of homosexuality and that at least three of them were killed. The journalists who broke the story in recent weeks later reported receiving death threats.
President Vladimir Putin last week met Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who dismissed the "provocative" reports. The reports, however, have been taken seriously by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and prominent international organizations, which have urged the Russian government to investigate.
Lavrov told reporters Monday that Russian officials haven't seen any information confirming the reports but added that Moscow is concerned about "any human rights violations."
Lavrov was speaking at a joint news conference with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who said she raised human rights at talks with Lavrov earlier in the day and met rights activists in the morning to discuss the reports of persecution.
Speaking to reporters on Monday, Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Kremlin has no reason to disbelieve Kadyrov because no one has publicly come out as a victim yet.
"We have no reason not to trust the head of the republic until there are actual complaints in this regard, not abstract, anonymous but actual complaints," Peskov said.
Rights activists and Chechnya experts say it is improbable that any gay person will ever come out publicly as a victim of harassment and torture in Chechnya because of the deep-seated homophobia in the North Caucasus and fear of reprisal to their families.