A SYSTEMATIC campaign of horrific homophobic violence is under way in Chechnya, according to reports that emerged last week.

Echoing the unthinkable brutality of Nazi Germany, gay men are allegedly being rounded up, forcibly detained in concentration camps, tortured and killed.

Campaigners and human rights groups claim men are being tortured with electric shocks and beaten to death in inhumane concentration camps.

Reports first surfaced in the Novaya Gazeta newspaper, which said up to 100 men had been rounded up and sent to the camps, where at least three were murdered by armed forces.

Activist Natalia Poplevskaya, of the Russian LGBT Network, said those suspected of being gay were being abused in camps where men were crammed 30 to a cell.

She told press that those forcibly detained were being tortured, subjected to electric shocks and beatings with cables.

Authorities in the Republic of Chechnya have denied the shocking allegations, with Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov facing down the reports by insisting gay men do not exist in the republic and therefore cannot be punished for their sexuality.

In a chilling statement his press secretary Alvi Karimov said: “You cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic.

“If such people existed in Chechnya law enforcement would not have to worry about them since their own relatives would have sent them to where they could never return.”

Chechnya is a federal subject of Russia, where the widespread persecution of gay people is well documented.

An anti-gay crackdown followed the introduction of a 2013 law which banned promotion of homosexuality among minors, bringing with it terrible implications for the LGBT community.

The news emerging from Chechnya has prompted some of those targeted to share their stories, with reports of honour killings, blackmail and violence emerging daily.

This brutal and unforgivable stigmatisation of homosexuality in the southern Russian republic should be condemned and challenged at the highest level.

But it is not an isolated affair – persecution on the grounds of sexuality is a global issue and seemingly a growing one.

It is yet another example of the challenges that still face the LGBT community, who must live with the knowledge that they – and their rights – remain under threat in myriad ways, despite decades of campaigning for equality and respect.

Homophobia does not always manifest in extremism but it thrives nevertheless in a million different ways, on the playground, in politics, religion, the work place and on the streets. It grows quickly, as hate crime figures from our own region demonstrate, and it is as damaging and hateful as it is completely unacceptable.

The LGBT community should not be left to battle homophobia alone – this is not an issue of gay rights but of human rights, of the ability to live and love freely, to be safe on the streets and to be respected, not simply tolerated. It is time for allies to come out of the closet and join the fight against hatred.