Pop star 'feared dead' in Chechnya's anti-gay crackdown, human rights group warns

Members of the LGBT community suggest Zelimkhan Bakayev, who went missing in August, was abducted by authorities 

Chloe Farand
Saturday 28 October 2017 16:55 BST
Chechnya leader Ramzan Kadyrov has been blamed for the ‘wave of persecution’ against the region's homosexual community
Chechnya leader Ramzan Kadyrov has been blamed for the ‘wave of persecution’ against the region's homosexual community (Getty)

A leading Russian human rights group said it has “serious fears” a gay Chechen pop star has been killed in a crackdown on the homosexual community.

Zelimkhan Bakayev has not been seen since 8 August when he left his Moscow home to travel to Chechnya’s capital Grozny to attend his sister’s wedding.

Following the 26-year-old singer’s disappearance, human rights groups and some members of the LGBT community alleged Mr Bakayev’s disappearance was linked to an anti-gay campaign in Chechnya, with some suggesting he had been abducted by police.

Speaking to the AFP, Oleg Orlov, from Memorial, a civil rights group which aims to promote observance of human rights across Russia, said: “When a person disappears and the police force refuse to investigate his disappearance, we have serious fears for the life of that person.”

According to the AFP, Mr Bakayev’s mother called on Chechnya’s authorities to launch an investigation into her son’s disappearance but Mr Orlov said no inquiry had yet been opened.

An anonymous source claiming to be close to activists in Chechnya also told the LGBT news website NewNowNext that Mr Bakayev arrived in Grozny, where he was “picked up by police”, tortured and “murdered within ten hours”. However the source did not provide detailed evidence to support the claims.

During a press conference in Moscow earlier this month, founder of the Russian LGBT Network Igor Kochetkov also made a direct link between Mr Bakayev’s disappearance and revelations of the detention and torture of Chechen gay men earlier this year.

The US-based groups Human Rights First released a statement this week denouncing “the apparent killing of Zelim Bakayev by Chechen authorities” over his sexual orientation.

The group’s advocacy counsel Shawn Gaylord said: “Over the past two months, the international community hoped that rumours of Zelim’s death were only that. But as we continued to raise concerns with the State Department, that hope dimmed. We are now forced to conclude that he was tragically swept up in this anti-gay purge and lost his life because of it.”

But Mr Bakayev’s former producer Guilani Stadnik told the AFP he doubted the singer had been kidnapped but suggested he may have escaped from his house and “is hiding somewhere”.

Last month, speculation over the disappearance of the pop star intensified when two videos showing the singer speaking in an apartment were uploaded to YouTube by an unknown person who claimed Mr Bakayev was “resting in Germany”.

But Mr Bakayev’s family and friends suggested the video was a hoax and pointed to the Russian drinks and furniture in the room where the video was filmed.

Allegations of arbitrary detention, torture, disappearances and killings of hundreds of homosexuals in Chechnya caused international outrage earlier this year.

Members of the LGBT community fleeing Chechnya have been speaking out about some of the abuse.

On Monday, Maxim Lapunov, from Omsk, Siberia, spoke out about his ordeal when he was caught up in the whirlwind of Chechnya’s ”gay purge” during which he claimed being arrested, thrown into a blood-soaked cellar and repeatedly beaten during 12 days.

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