A campaign to rid Chechnya of sexual minorities has resulted in the deaths of 26 gay men, the Russian newspaper that first broke the story has reported.

In April, Novaya Gaceta reported that authorities in Chechnya have rounded up dozens of suspected gay men and killed three. It has since reported that the men are being held at six secret prisons without due process.

The paper this week reported that the campaign has resulted in the deaths of 26 men since the start of the year.

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov has denied the newspaper's claims, saying that there were no gay men in Chechnya.

“You cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic,” Kadyrov spokesman Alvi Karimov told Interfax news agency.

As reports circulated, Moscow said that it would look into the claims. Russian officials said they determined that there were “no victims of persecution” in Chechnya.

But a recent The New York Times story included first-hand accounts of beatings of gay men at the hands of authorities.

“Gays in Chechnya and the North Caucasus are in lethal danger,” Igor Kochetkov, director of the Russian LGBT Network, told the Times. “People whose partners are detained have every reason to believe they will be arrested. It is very hard not to name the names under torture.”

Citing confidentiality laws, the State Department has refused to respond to claims that the United States is refusing to grant visas to men fleeing the country.

Chechnya is a Muslim-majority republic of Russia that attempted to gain its independence from Moscow in the 1990s.