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Chechen Official Says Missing Singer Will 'Appear Soon'

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov (left) with singer Zelimkhan Bakayev (file photo)
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov (left) with singer Zelimkhan Bakayev (file photo)

A senor official in Russia's Chechnya region has issued an assurance that a prominent singer whom relatives have not seen in 10 days is safe and will "appear soon."

But Chechen Press and Information Minister Dzhambulat Umarov, who made the comments on August 18, did not say how he knew that and gave no information about the singer's whereabouts.

A relative of Zelimkhan Bakayev told RFE/RL on August 16 that the singer, who lives in Moscow, had come to the Chechen capital Grozny for a family wedding and went missing on August 8.

Rights activists and critics of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov say that the strongman uses abductions by the security forces he controls as a tool against dissenters, opponents, and suspected Islamist militants.

Umarov said that reports of Bakayev's disappearance and allegations that he might have been detained by law enforcement authorities were "absurd."

"The lad is not a Wahhabi or a terrorist, he has never been involved in any problems. No law enforcement has taken him; nobody needs him at all," Umarov said. "He will not go anywhere. He did not have any enemies."

Authorities in Russia's North Caucasus, where an Islamist insurgency persists in the wake of two post-Soviet separatist wars in Chechnya, sometimes use the term Wahhabis to describe Islamic militants.

Umarov's comments were the first by a Chechen official since Bakayev was last seen by relatives.

Concerns about disappearances in Chechnya have been heightened by accounts of a deadly campaign of abuse against gay men by the authorities, and by reports in the independent Moscow newspaper Novaya Gazeta that 27 people may have been executed without trial in January after they were arrested over clashes with police in December.

Kremlin critics say that Russian President Vladimir Putin has given Kadyrov free rein in Chechnya because Moscow relies on him to keep a lid on separatism and insurgent violence in the region.