Human rights campaigners are planning to march on the Russian Embassy in London later today in protest against “purges” of gay men in Chechnya, a federal republic of Russia.

Last week, 100 gay men were detained and three were killed in Chechnya, the Mail Online reported. The men were detained “in connection with their nontraditional sexual orientation, or suspicion of such,” according to the Russian newspaper, Novaya Gazeta.

A spokesman for Chechnya’s leader said the article, which appeared in Novaya Gazeta on April 1 was “absolute lies and disinformation.”

A spokesperson for Chechnya’s Interior Ministry went so far as to dismiss it as an “April fools’ joke.”

But leading human rights groups insist that the violent discrimination against gay men is a reality.

“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,” wrote Tanya Lokshina, a Moscow-based senior researcher at the Human Rights Watch, a non-governmental organisation (NGO).

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“Some of the men have forcibly disappeared. Others were returned to their families barely alive from beatings. At least three men apparently have died since this brutal campaign began,” she added.

Over 65,000 people have signed an Amnesty petition entitled “Chechnya: Stop abducting and killing gay men.”

The Chechen authorities deny that gay men even exist in Chechnya, according to the human rights NGO, which boasts over 7m members worldwide.

‘You cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic,’ Kadyrov spokesman Alvi Karimov told Interfax. ‘If there were such people in Chechnya, the law-enforcement organs wouldn’t need to have anything to do with them because their relatives would send them somewhere from which there is no returning.’

A hotline set up by the the Russian arm of the LGBTI network in response to the recent attacks continues to offer emergency support to those who find themselves in immediate danger.

The hotline received more than ten calls in the two days following the first public report of homosexual abuse in Novaya Gazeta. 

However, there are also anonymous warnings online that those responsible for the brutal attacks can track down individuals who get in touch.

RFE/RL’s Russian Service spoke to three gay Chechen men who gave their personal accounts of their escapes from the abuse they faced in Chechnya.

“We lived in a big barracks — there were 15 gays and another 20 drug addicts,” one of the former detainees told the publication. “But when we arrived, the status of the drug addicts rose significantly. They were allowed to torment us.”Members of the public took to Twitter, expressing anger that the violence against gay men in the Russian republic has not received more attention in the press.

Last week, Russia’s president Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, stated that the Kremlin was previously unaware of the situation in Checnya, but that law enforcement authorities would look into media reports.

British prime minister Theresa May has not yet spoken out in condemnation of the attacks.

A letter from a group of MEPs was delivered to Downing Street today urging May to take swift action against the “abhorrent” reports.

“Clearly these actions are abhorrent, and we ask that the UK government swiftly condemn the Chechen leadership, and take this to the highest level,” the letter said.