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The Head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov has hinted that the disappearance of singer Zelimkhan ‘Zelim’ Bakayev was the doing of his own family. Kadyrov made the remarks during a government meeting in Grozny broadcasted by the state-run Grozny TV on 17 January.
Rights groups say they suspect Bakayev was detained as part of widespread detentions, torture, and killings of queer men by Chechen authorities in 2017.
Speaking in Chechen at a meeting with representatives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and troops from the National Guard, RFE/RL’s North Caucasus service Kavkaz.Realii report that Kadyrov said: ‘[Bakayev’s] relatives, who failed to look after him, they are ashamed to admit the truth. Now they say that Kadyrov took him. What is the proof? Did you hear me say on TV that we should catch him? Or that policemen should jail him? The family could not stop him, and then called him home, and the brothers, apparently, had a hard talk with him about him being… Is there no one in their village, among their men, who would admit: “we did it”? They knew very well who their relative was’.
A close friend of Bakayev, Diana, told OC Media that she last heard from him on 5 November, almost three months after his disappearance, when she received an Instagram message from his account. ‘I think he sent it, because only Zelim calls me “dog” [heart]. We were chatting for a couple of minutes. And that’s it’’, Diana says.
In response to Kadyrov’s words, the Russian LGBT Network published a statement on their website claiming to ‘have proof that mass persecutions of queer people in Chechnya were orchestrated by the local authorities, and there is proof that confirms the fact that Zelimkhan Bakayev was detained in relation precisely to being suspected of being a homosexual’.
The statement also says that they have witness accounts from people who were detained and questioned, including about the sexual orientation of Zelimkhan Bakayev.
The Network appealed to President Vladimir Putin to react to Kadyrov’s public excuse of an ‘honor killing’ and demanded that he put a stop to persecutions of queer people in Chechnya.
The 26 year old singer disappeared on 8 August 2017 in the Chechen capital Grozny, where he was attending the wedding of his sister.
After the case gained media attention and human rights activists raised the alarm about the persecution of queer people in Chechnya, Russia’s Human Rights Commissioner Tatyana Moskalkova flew to Grozny.
Almost immediately after her visit, a video was published online supposedly from Bakayev. In it, a man who looks like Bakayev addresses someone called Islam, inviting him to Germany, where he says he travelled in the middle of August.
The singer’s friends and family insist the video was staged, while the European Commission confirmed that Bakayev had not entered Europe.
[Read from oDR: ‘Brothers, be careful. Don’t meet up in Grozny’]
In September, Zelimkhan’s mother Malika Bakayeva addressed Ramzan Kadyrov asking for help in finding her son.
On 8 January, international queer rights group All Out, together with the Russian LGBT Network, launched a campaign demanding Russian officials investigate his disappearance. ‘There are clear indications that he is one of the victims of the atrocious anti-gay purge in Chechnya’, All Out’s website says.
On 9 January, a video was posted to YouTube in which a woman covering her face addresses Kadyrov, his mother Aymani Kadyrova, and the parents of other disappeared sons. She called on the head of Chechnya to stop torturing people.
‘Give Zelimkhan back to his mother. You also have a mother. You don’t have a sense of shame or a conscience. You do not deserve to be the head of the republic. You could not be given even the job of a shepherd: you wouldn’t keep the herd together until the evening’, she says.
The video was deleted a day later.