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Russian police ‘abduct gay Chechen brothers’ from safehouse in central Russia

5 February 2021
Nizhny Novgorod. Photo: TASS.

Russian police have abducted two Chechen brothers in hiding in a safehouse in central Russia, activists report.

According to the Russian LGBT Network, Ismail Isayev, 17, and Salekh Magamadov, 20, were taken on Thursday from a flat in Nizhny Novgorod. 

The group provided the flat to the men as a refuge from the ongoing persecution of suspected homosexuals in Chechnya. They were awaiting visas to flee the country.

Nizhny Novgorod is a major city in Central Russia 1,900 kilometres away from Chechnya.

The Russian LGBT Network said that sources in Nizhny Novgorod’s police department had told them that the men had been handed over to Chechen security forces.

The group said they were preparing an urgent appeal to the European Court of Human Rights for interim measures.

Isayev and Magamadov were previously abducted by security forces in Chechnya in the spring 2020 for posts made on Telegram. The brothers were among nine administrators of Telegram channel Osal nakh95 who were forced to deliver a public apology in April 2020. 

The video included confessions by the nine that the channel had published intimate photos, contained insults, and ‘unbecoming things’. They revealed their Telegram nicknames and warned other users that they would ‘also be found if they wrote unbecoming things’.

David Isteyev, a coordinator at the Russian LGBT Network, told OC Media that at the time, the brothers’ sexual orientation became an aggravating circumstance for their illegal imprisonment.

According to him, they were imprisoned from 30 March until 2 June 2020 in a facility in Grozny run by the Akhmat Kadyrov Second Road Patrol Regiment, an elite police unit.

Isteyev said the brothers were released while remaining ‘under total police control’. He said they left Chechnya the same day and turned to the Russian LGBT Network for help. 

This is not the first time that people have disappeared from shelters operated by the Russian LGBT Network. According to the activists, in 2017, police detained two men who were in hiding while they were awaiting documents to leave Russia. In the same year, a young woman from Chechnya disappeared from a shelter in an unnamed city. 

Their cases were featured in the film Welcome to Chechnya, which centres around the work of the Russian LGBT Network in evacuating queer people from Russia.

The 2017 purge

Russian daily Novaya Gazeta first reported the major operation targeting suspected queer men in Chechnya in April 2017. They said at the time that more than a hundred men had been detained and at least three killed already that year.

Those believed by activists to have been murdered by the authorities include well-known Chechen singer Zelim Bakayev.

Zelimkhan ‘Zelim’ Bakayev disappeared in August 2017 in Grozny, which he was visiting from Moscow for his sister’s wedding.

The Chechen authorities denied the report at the time, calling it an attempt to ‘tarnish Chechnya’s reputation’.

Chechen Head Ramzan Kadyrov has frequently stated that the reports were impossible as there are no gay men in Chechnya.

Similarly, the Russian authorities, including Russia’s Public Defender Tatyana Moskalkova, claimed that the reports of persecution could be false, as neither federal nor Chechen institutions, such as the police and the Prosecutor’s Office, had received a single complaint.

[Read more on OC Media: Mass detentions and killing of queer men reported in Chechnya]

In July 2017, the Russian LGBT Network released a report with witness testimonies from a number of queer people caught up in the systematic persecution of queer people in Chechnya.

It stated that three separate waves of persecutions took place, with the first starting in December 2016 going on through February 2017, the second in March through May, and the third one from the end of July 2017 until the end of summer.

In a video address in January 2019, Igor Kochetkov of the Russian LGBT Network said that around 200 people were detained in the spring and summer of 2017 by the police and national guard, ‘under the leadership of high-ranking officials in the Chechen republic’.

He said that at least three had been confirmed killed, and that the actual numbers could be much higher.

In their 2018 Nations in Transit report, American rights group Freedom House said there was ‘credible evidence of at least 31 deaths of Chechen men who were suspected of being gay’.

Kochetkov said that the Chechen authorities were forced to stop the mass detentions in summer 2017 as the result of international pressure. Nevertheless, he said, the Russian LGBT Network had ‘continued to receive reports of single cases of illegal detentions, torture, and blackmail’.

[Read more on OC Media: Witnesses detail continuing anti-queer purge in Chechnya]

[Read more on OC Media: Queer women in Russia’s North Caucasus ‘face sexual violence, forced marriage, and murder’]

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