At least two people were killed on Monday and 40 detained in a new crackdown on LGBT people in Russia’s Chechnya, a report published by the Russian LGBT Network quoted activists as saying. Both deaths reportedly occurred as a result of torture by police.

The new round of persecution began in late December after an administrator for an online group for LGBT people on the country’s social network VKontakte was detained. The network has monitored alleged abuses in Chechnya since 2017 when dozens of gay people were reportedly detained and three deaths were reported.

Homophobia is prevalent in the southwestern troubled region ruled by Vladimir Putin loyalist Ramzan Kadyrov, who has previously claimed that gay people do not exist. “In Chechen society, there is no such thing as non-traditional orientation,” he had said.

Igor Kochetkov, the programme director for the Russian LGBT Network, said that the detained included both men and women. He said that the detentions were conducted by law enforcement officers and the local police were making every effort to prevent victims from leaving the region or applying to court.

“They take away [travel] documents, they threaten the victims with the criminal proceedings against them or their close ones, and they force them to sign empty forms,” Kochetkov added.

“This wasn’t happening in 2017,” Kochetkov told The Moscow Times. “Everything is being done so that they can’t flee the country.”

According to the report, Russian authorities are not only unwilling to stop the persecution but have also failed to acknowledge the illegal detentions, tortures and the killings of LGBT people in Chechnya. In its only official reaction to the report, Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov reportedly said the administration would look into it.

However, a Chechen government spokesperson denied the allegations, RT reported. “If even a single person were arrested, let alone 40, the entire Chechen public would have known,” said spokesperson Alvi Kraimov. “The claim that two were killed is even more absurd.”