Concerns have grown for the safety of two gay men who escaped from persecution in Chechnya with the assistance of an LGBTQ+ support group after Russian police returned them to the authorities in their home country.
The Russian LGBT Network had assisted Salekh Magamadov, 20, and Ismail Isayev, 17, in escaping from Chechnya after they were tortured and forced to record “apology videos” for being gay men. The videos, which depicted the men looking unwell and suffering injuries related to beatings, were then shared online.
After fleeing Chechnya, the pair were housed in an apartment in Nizhny Novgorod, east of Moscow. On February 4 at 3pm, the LGBT Network received a panicked phonecall from one of the men, screaming could be heard in the background. When their lawyer, Alexander Nemov, hurried to their apartment, the men were missing and there were visible signs of a struggle.
When Nemov made enquiries, he discovered the apartment had been raided by Russian police and they had then handed the men to the authorities in their home country. Concerns for their safety are very much justified considering the documented statewide persecution of the LGBTQ+ community in Chechnya.
The Russian LGBT Network tweeted, “Saleh Magamadov and Ismail Isayev were detained by the police in their apartment. The Russian LGBT Network helped Saleh and Ismail leave Chechnya and move to Nizhny Novgorod. Now they are being taken by car back to Chechnya.”
The men had originally been arrested in Chechnya for running an opposition channel on the Telegram messaging app. The LGBT Network said they had then learned the men were being held on suspicion of “aiding terrorism” and authorities claim the men had subsequently confessed to helping an illegal armed group.
A spokesperson for the Network, Tim Bestvet, said the gay men were “tired and frightened” after being handed over to local authorities. Bestvet added they were in “mortal danger” as they had been detained and questioned by authorities and refused access to a lawyer. Akhmed Dudyaev, a government spokesperson from Chechnya, has said any attempt to infer in the case against the men would be “senseless and futile”.
Leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, has previously said there are “no LGBTQ+” people in their country, but also later said that queer people should be deported “to purify our blood”.
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