,BRUSSELS - The European Union imposed sanctions on Monday on two Russians accused of persecuting gay and lesbian people in the southern Russian region of Chechnya, the bloc's toughest response to attacks on Russian citizens because of their sexuality. Russian authorities in the autonomous region deny what human rights groups, media and filmmakers have described as a purge, with dozens of LGBT+ people rounded-up and tortured since 2017. The EU blacklisted Aiub Vakhaevich Kataev, a senior official at the Russian Internal Affairs Ministry in Chechnya, and Abuzaid Dzhandarovich Vismuradov, deputy prime minister of the Chechnya region and the commander of a special security unit that the EU said was responsible for persecution. Vismuradov is already under U.S. sanctions. "The repressions are directed against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, those presumed to belong to LGBTI groups," the EU said in its Official Journal, where it published the asset freezes and travel bans. The EU said gay and lesbian individuals were wrongly accused of being opponents of Ramzan Kadyrov, who is the leader of Russia's Muslim-majority Chechnya region and a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Kadyrov is also under U.S. sanctions for rights abuses, which he denies. His spokesman has said there could be no attacks on gay men because there were no such people in Chechnya. REUTERS
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