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Rights Groups Fear Singer Killed In Chechen Crackdown On Gays

Zelimkhan Bakayev, 26, disappeared soon after arriving in Grozny to attend his sister's wedding in August.
Zelimkhan Bakayev, 26, disappeared soon after arriving in Grozny to attend his sister's wedding in August.

A leading Russian human rights group has "serious fears" that a gay pop star who disappeared after going home to Chechnya may have been killed in Grozny's crackdown on homosexuals.

The report by AFP on October 27 comes amid mounting concern about the fate of Zelimkhan Bakayev, whose family says he was last seen on August 8 in Chechnya's capital, Grozny, where he had traveled to attend his sister's wedding.

"When a person disappears and the police force refuses to investigate his disappearance, we have serious fears for the life of that person," Oleg Orlov of Memorial, Russia's oldest civil rights group, told AFP.

Orlov said Bakayev's mother called on Chechen authorities to launch an investigation into her son's disappearance, but no inquiry has been opened.

His remarks follow reports by LGBT advocacy groups quoting unidentified sources as saying that Bakayev, 26, was killed shortly after he arrived in Grozny.

The website quoted an anonymous source it said was close to activists in Chechnya as saying that Bakayev was arrested and tortured to death hours after his arrival. It did not provide detailed evidence, and the author of the website's article did not respond to a request for details from RFE/RL's Russian Service.

"Over the past two months, the international community hoped that rumors of Zelim's death were only that," Shawn Gaylord, advocacy counsel at the U.S.-based group Human Rights First, said in a statement on October 24.

"But as we continued to raise concerns with the [U.S.] State Department, that hope dimmed. We are now forced to conclude that he was tragically swept up in this antigay purge and lost his life because of it."

Chechnya’s Kremlin-backed leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, has called reports of the torturing and killing of gays in a police crackdown "lies."

On October 16, a prominent Russian gay-rights watchdog alleged that Bakayev was detained by the Chechen authorities in connection with a campaign targeting gay men in the southern Russian region.

The assertion by Igor Kochetkov, founder the Russian LGBT Network, was the first time that activists had publicly linked the singer's disappearance to the alleged campaign of detentions and torture of dozens of men in Chechnya this year.

A video posted on YouTube in September showed a man resembling Bakayev claiming to be in Germany. But it contained no evidence that he was in fact there, and only added to concerns about his fate.

Bakayev's former producer, Guilani Stadnik, told AFP he doubted the singer had been kidnapped, however.

"I think that he escaped from his house and he is hiding somewhere," he said.

With reporting by AFP and
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