Chechnya’s strongman, Ramzan Kadyrov, hardly skipped a beat when it was revealed that his security forces were kidnapping and torturing gay men in the republic. Instead of investigating and punishing those who inflicted the horrors, Kadyrov, a violent provincial boss who enjoys the blessings of Russian President Vladimir Putin, immediately went after the Moscow newspaper that brought the situation to light. Reporters have been threatened and denounced, and forced to flee Russia.

On April 1, Novaya Gazeta, known for digging into sensitive topics, published an exposé showing that Kadyrov’s security services were detaining and executing gay men, holding them in squalid conditions and outing them to families for suggested “honor killing.” Three are known to have died, and more than 100 are believed to have been seized.

Since the story broke, further corroboration has come from gay men who escaped captivity and reported they were tortured, harassed and threatened. The purge has been confirmed by Human Rights Watch, which quoted one victim as saying, “They treated us like animals.”

Russia put down secessionist rebels in Chechnya in two wars that wreaked havoc on the republic. Today, Kadyrov rules by brute force and with Kremlin backing. Chechen society is traditionally conservative, and homosexuality is viewed as taboo.

On April 3, at a gathering of Chechnya’s religious and political leaders in the capital Grozny, an adviser to Kadyrov accused the newspaper of defamation and called its journalists “enemies of our faith and our motherland.” There was talk of retribution.

In an open and free society, this chain of events would be cause for alarm: secret torture chambers, runaway authority, intimidation of the press. But Russia is not free, and Putin hardly seems perturbed.

He tolerates brutality and coercion as instruments of state power, deaf to the cries of anguish from its victims.