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Many gay men have faced persecution in Chechnya and have sought asylum outside the Russian republic. (file photo)

The Russian LGBT Network has warned that two young gay men from Chechnya who were seized in Nizhny Novgorod and driven by car back to the North Caucasus region face "mortal danger."

The Russian NGO reported on its Telegram channel on February 6 that Salekh Magamadov, 18, and a 17-year-old companion had arrived at a police station in Gudermes after being detained by Federal Security Service (FSB) officers earlier this week.

The reason for their detentions in Nizhny Novgorod remains unknown, the LGBT Network reported on its website, adding that one of its lawyers was not being granted access to the detainees prior to their interrogation.

RFE/RL is not revealing the identity of the second man because he is a minor.

The LGBT Network helped both men leave Chechnya and settle in Nizhny Novgorod in July. After police arrived at their apartment on February 4, one of the men contacted the NGO asking for help and its emergency-assistance coordinator reported hearing screaming from unknown people in the background, the LGBT Network wrote on its website.

After arriving on the scene, a lawyer for the LGBT Network noticed that a scuffle had taken place in the men's apartment and was able to confirm that the two men had been detained by police and were being taken by car to Gudermes, Chechnya.

The LGBT Network became involved in the men's case after they were both detained in April 2020 in Chechnya, the Russian region ruled by Kremlin-backed strongman Ramzan Kadyrov.

According to the LGBT Network the two men had been illegally detained at a notorious prison in the Chechen capital in relation to their involvement as moderators on the opposition Telegram channel Osal Nakh 95.

The two were tortured and humiliated by Chechen special police, according to the rights group, and were later seen in videos published on the Internet in which they can be seen apologizing, apparently under duress, saying "they weren't men."

The predominantly Muslim region of Russia’s North Caucasus was in 2017 accused of carrying out a brutal “purge” targeting sexual minorities, despite Kadyrov's denials and claims that "we don't have any gays" in Chechnya. In 2019, the LGBT Network reported a second wave of persecution against gays.

"They are tired and frightened," LGBT Network spokesperson Time Bestsvet told AFP on January 6. "All this time they were being pressured to refuse a lawyer."

According to Bestsvet, the father of the detained minor was being pressured to refuse to let his son see an attorney. Bestsvet said the rights group was working to gain access to the men, whom he said faced "mortal danger."

"There have been cases when relatives brought back to Chechnya people that we had evacuated and then these people would die or, we can say, were probably murdered," Bestsvet said.

With reporting by AFP

MOSCOW -- Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Inc. (RFE/RL) has appealed a string of Russian court decisions to fine several of the broadcaster's Russian-language endeavours and the general director of its operations in Russia for allegedly failing to comply with new restrictions under the country’s controversial “foreign agent” law.

RFE/RL's lawyers on February 5 filed the appeals against the decisions by the Tverskoi District Court in Moscow to approve several administrative protocols submitted by Russian media regulator Roskomnadzor "for noncompliance by the media performing the functions of a foreign agent with the requirements of the law on labeling information disseminated by them."

Among other things, the law on foreign agents requires certain news organizations that receive foreign funding to label content within Russia as being produced by a “foreign agent.”

RFE/RL's lawyers stated in their appeals that Roskomnadzor’s moves prevent journalists from performing professional activities and contradict the Russian Constitution and laws on media by restricting competition.

The appeals also say that censorship is officially banned in Russia, stressing that Roskomnadzor’s orders will "distort the essence of reports [and] change the way they are received by the audience."

According to the lawyers, following Roskomnadzor's requests would create distrust and rejection of the reports and materials of RFE/RL's projects, while many of the requests cannot even be technically executed.

“These fines represent nothing less than a state-sponsored campaign of coercion and intimidation, targeting a media company whose editorial independence is protected by law," RFE/RL's Regional Director for Europe and TV Production Kiryl Sukhotski said.

"Our audiences in Russia have long depended on RFE/RL to be trustworthy, credible, and factual; to be an alternative to disinformation and spin. These qualities are, and will always remain, at the core of RFE/RL’s reporting,” Sukhotski said.

Russian regulators have singled out RFE/RL, whose editorial independence is also enshrined in U.S. law, over other foreign news operations in Russia.

An independent nonprofit corporation that receives funding from the U.S. Congress, RFE/RL has not complied with the "foreign agent" law, while the mounting fines could potentially force the company to shutter its presence within Russia.

The February 5 appeal regards the court's January 27 decisions regarding the first four protocols that imposed a total of 1.1 million rubles ($14,500).

At this moment, the combined fines overall total 7.15 million rubles ($94,000), a sum that may increase as court decisions on Roskomnadzor's other protocols targeting RFE/RL are pending.

Roskomnadzor's protocols target four of RFE/RL's Russian-language projects -- its main service for Russia, Radio Liberty; the Current Time TV and digital network; and Siberia.Reality and Idel.Reality, two regional sites delivering local news and information to audiences in Siberia and the Volga-Urals.

RFE/RL also says that the law on foreign agents puts its journalists at risk for criminal prosecution.

U.S. Republican and Democratic lawmakers recently called for new sanctions against Moscow if the Kremlin moves to enforce the stringent restrictions and punishing fines that threaten RFE/RL’s news operations in Russia.

Since early in Vladimir Putin’s presidency, the Kremlin has steadily tightened the screws on independent media. The country is ranked 149th out of 180 places in the World Press Freedom Index produced by Reporters Without Borders.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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