Human rights activists are demanding answers on the three-month anniversary of the disappearance of a high-profile pop singer from the Russian region of Chechnya.
In April, the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta alleged that Chechen officials were arresting and violently torturing men they believed to be gay in what was described as a “gay purge”.
Chechen singer Zelimkhan Bakayev was last seen on August 8 in the Chechen capital of Grozny, and Human Rights Watch said his family had been unable to get answers from authorities about what happened to him.
“There is little doubt he was targeted because of his sexual orientation,” the group said.
On September 24, two videos of Bakaev were anonymously uploaded to YouTube featuring the singer appearing to tell a friend he’d left Russia for Germany in August.
But Human Rights Watch said Bakaev’s friends believe the video was a hoax and he had been recorded under coercion.
“Bakaev’s friends told us that he ‘doesn’t look like himself’ in those videos: for a man who takes meticulous care of his appearance, he is ruffled, with a sloppy haircut, and seems to have lost a lot of weight,” the group said.
“The furniture and other items in the apartment in the video also appear reminiscent of Chechnya, not Germany.”
They continued: “Chechnya’s Prosecutor’s Office did reprimand local law enforcement agencies for failing to investigate Bakaev’s disappearance.
“But Moscow should go beyond window dressing, and properly answer questions about Bakaev’s fate and whereabouts.
“Germany could also help by publicly affirming that if Bakaev is in Germany, that he can safely seek asylum there, and will receive protection from German authorities to contact his family and speak publicly if he wishes.”
Chechen authorities have repeatedly denied the violent campaign against the country’s LGBTI community, but last month a 30-year-old Russian man became the first to publicly identify himself as a victim.
Maxim Lapunov said he was living and working in the Chechen capital of Grozny when he was jailed and tortured by police in March.
Human Rights Watch’s Tanya Lokshina said at the time Lapunov was “incredibly brave and courageous” and other victims hadn’t come forward because of the risk of violent retribution from their families.
“Russian authorities at different levels made numerous statements about the fact that not a single victim filed an official complaint and that made it easy for officials to dismiss the [reports] as rumours,” she said.
The Russian LGBT Network said last month the persecution of the region’s gay people was continuing despite global outcry.
They said since March this year more than 150 people had contacted them for assistance, 79 had fled Chechnya and 53 people had found safety outside of Russia.