It’s been three months since Chechen singer Zelim Bakaev disappeared after he was approached by security officials and dragged into a car in central Grozny.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports that there is “little doubt” that Bakaev was targeted because of his sexual orientation, as part of Chechnya’s wider crackdown on the LGBT+ community.
Bakaev had been living in Moscow since 2012 but returned to Chechnya in August to attend his sister’s wedding—disappearing just two days after his arrival.
It was first reported in April that authorities in the autonomous Russian region had begun rounding up and torturing gay and bisexual men. President Ramzan Kadyrov has denied that an anti-gay purge had taken place, claiming that there are no gay people living in Chechnya.
The Russian LGBT Network has been assisting Chechens who have managed to escape after being arrested and tortured. The head of the organisation—Igor Kochetkov—told HRW that some of the tortured men were questioned about Bakaev’s sexuality while in detention.
The singer appeared in a Youtube video posted on September 24, explaining that he had safely arrived in Germany. However, his friends noted that he “doesn’t look like himself” and the furniture in the video appears to be Chechen, not German.
Human Rights Watch activists have called on Moscow to investigate Bakaev’s disappearance. The group says although Chechnya’s Prosecutor’s Office did reprimand local law enforcement agencies over a failed investigation, Russia should take meaningful action.
“But Moscow should go beyond window dressing, and properly answer questions about Bakaev’s fate and whereabouts,” writes HRW’s Vladislav Lobanov.
“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."
Last month, the US-based organisation Human Rights First expressed grave concerns that Bakaev had never left detention in Grozny and had been murdered by Chechen authorities.
“Over the past two months, the international community hoped that rumours of Zelim’s death were only that,” said the group’s Shawn Gaylord.
“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.”