Russian officials are actively investigating claims of a purge of gay men in Chechnya, the media reported on Friday.

Dozens of men in the southern republic are reported to have been held in extrajudicial detention and tortured as part of a campaign against gay males in Chechnya that began several months ago, reports the Guardian. 

Many have fled and are in hiding in other regions of Russia or have gone abroad.

The story was initially reported by the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta and was confirmed by the Guardian, which reported about four gay men who had been caught up in the campaign. 

One of the men gave details of beatings and electric shock torture in a secret prison where he was held for more than a week.

Earlier this month, German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to conduct a full investigation into the reports.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report on Friday that provided further evidence of the anti-gay campaign. 

The organisation said three men it had spoken to had reported the presence of high-level Chechen officials when they had been tortured.

Homosexuality is a huge taboo in Chechnya and many fear reprisals from their own families if they come out publicly, reports the Guardian. 

They also fear their families will be made to suffer a "stain on their honour" for having a gay relative, according to the HRW. 

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has denied all allegations so far and in an interview in April said there were "no gay men in Chechnya". 

"These are not traditional things, psychiatrically abnormal things. We don't understand them. Our people do not understand."