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Ramzan Kadyrov says there are no gay men in Chechnya — and if there are any, they should move to Canada

Chechen regional leader Ramzan Kadyrov attends an international friendly soccer match between Russia and Romania in Grozny, Russia, on Nov. 15, 2016. (Denis Tyrin/AP)

In an interview, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov denies reports that gay men are being detained and tortured in the Russian republic — not because such abuses would not be allowed, but because he thinks there are no gay men in Chechnya.

“This is nonsense,” Kadyrov said when asked about the allegations. “We don't have those kinds of people here. We don't have any gays. If there are any, take them to Canada.”

“Praise be to god,” the Chechen leader adds. “Take them far from us so we don't have them at home. To purify our blood, if there are any here, take them.”

Kadyrov's comments came during an interview with HBO reporter David Scott for the show “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.” The interview is just one part of a broader package that will air at 10 p.m. Eastern time on Tuesday about how Kadyrov is using mixed martial arts (MMA) to spread a political message overseas.

Chechen president says there are no gay people in his country (Video: HBO / 'Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel')

In his one-on-one interview with Scott, Kadyrov offers what appears to be his first comments to a Western outlet about the reports of a gay purge in Chechnya. Allegations about the violence directed toward gay men in Chechnya first appeared in April, when the crusading Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta released a story including interviews with  men who said they had escaped the violence and with LGBT support groups that had assisted them.

Although the reports sparked condemnation from numerous international organizations, Chechen authorities dismissed them outright. Kadyrov's spokesman, Alvi Karimov, appears to have preempted the thoughts of his boss, telling Interfax that if a Chechen knew that a family member was gay, that relative would “have sent them to where they could never return.”

Kadyrov became leader of Chechnya in 2006 after years of violence and civil war. Under his leadership, the republic has become increasingly socially conservative. Activists say that few gay men in Chechnya publicly acknowledge their sexuality. Often, they lead double lives in a bid to avoid persecution — a situation that can make them susceptible to blackmail and violence.

In his interview with Scott, Kadyrov initially laughs dismissively at questions about the allegations. “Why did he come here?” he says to someone off camera. “What's the point of these questions?” But as Scott presses him, Kadyrov talks angrily about the reporters and activists who write about LGBT rights in Chechnya.

“They are devils. They are for sale. They are not people,” he says. “God damn them for what they are accusing us of. They will have to answer to the almighty for this.”

Elena Milashina, one of the two Novaya Gazeta reporters who broke the story, told WorldViews in April that she had gone into hiding after threats against her newspaper's staff from religious leaders in Chechnya. “It reminds us of the situation with Charlie Hebdo,” Milashina said, referring to the satirical French newspaper that was attacked by Islamist militant gunmen in 2015, resulting in the deaths of 12.

In 2006, Novaya Gazeta's star reporter Anna Politkovskaya — whose work often focused on Chechnya — was fatally shot in her apartment building in Moscow. Five men were eventually found guilty of murder in her slaying, but it remains unclear who ordered the killing.

Although the Russian government has largely dismissed concerns about LGBT rights in Chechnya, it may add to growing friction between the Kremlin and Grozny. Kadyrov had long enjoyed the backing of Vladimir Putin, with the Russian president allowing the warlord to rule Chechnya as a virtual fiefdom as long as he kept the long-restive region in order.

But the allegations of persecution against gay men fit into a broader picture of a Chechen government that is intertwined with violence. Just this week, Chechen security forces were accused of a mass extrajudicial execution, while five Chechen men who were found guilty of killing opposition politician Boris Nemtsov in Moscow received prison sentences — though again, doubts remain about who may have ordered Nemtsov's slaying.

In his interview with HBO, Kadyrov seems to have little concern about what Americans might think about Chechnya.

“America is not really a strong enough state for us to regard it as an enemy of Russia,” he says of tensions between Washington and Moscow. “We have a strong government and are a nuclear state. Even if our government was completely destroyed, our nuclear missiles would be automatically deployed.”

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