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Gay singer Zelim Bakaev went missing a year ago in Chechnya—what happened to him remains a mystery

Sofia Lotto Persio August 9, 2018

(Zelim Bakaev/Facebook)

A year since the disappearance of Chechen gay singer Zelimkhan (Zelim) Bakaev, his family, fans and activists are still searching for answers about what happened to him—and fighting for justice.

Bakaev was last seen being dragged into a car in the streets of the Chechen capital Grozny, where he had gone to attend his sister’s wedding, on August 8. No one has heard or seen him since.

Chechen refugees of the LGBT World Beside organisation held a small rally outside the Russian embassy in Belgium in Bakaev’s honor on Wednesday.

“We demand the resolution of an international independent investigation by an international human rights organisation. We do not forget and see what is happening in Chechnya,” they wrote in a statement.

In New York, the LGBT+ groups Voices4 and RUSA LGBT held a protest outside the Stonewall Inn. “Our main goal was to show whomever took Zelim that there are queer people all over the world who care and are taking action,” Voices4 founder Adam Eli told PinkNews.

Human rights activists have long been demanding an investigation into Bakaev’s disappearance, which has yet to be launched as authorities in both Chechnya and Russia have dismissed reports of a purge targeting gay men in the Chechen republic, Amnesty International noted in April.

“Zelim’s mother has pleaded for answers, but NOTHING has been done. Not for Zelim or any of the other victims of the ‘gay purge’ in Chechnya. We’re not giving up,” the LGBT+ rights organisation All Out wrote on Wednesday, linking to a petition demanding justice for Bakaev that has gathered nearly 45,000 signatures since January.

(Zelim Bakaev/Facebook)

A well-known artist in his homeland, which is a federal republic under Russian control, the 27-year-old singer is feared dead in the anti-gay purge allegedly spearheaded by ruler Ramzan Kadyrov, who once even posed for a picture with Bakaev.

The Russian LGBT+ network said at a press conference in October that Bakaev had been detained by the authorities because he was gay.

Kadyrov has never publicly admitted to the execution or the presence of “gay concentration camps” where LGBT+ men were rounded up, tortured and killed, despite numerous reports and survivors’ testimonies showing otherwise.

Protesting Chechnya
A man protesting the gay purge in Chechnya in Berlin (John Macdougall/AFP/Getty)

The Chechen strongman altogether denied there were any LGBT+ people in the republic in a chilling interview to HBO last year, and later claimed that human rights organisations made up reports of the purge for financial gain in an interview to the BBC in January.

Also in January, Kadyrov suggested Bakaev had been killed by his own family members due to his sexual orientation in a speech to security forces, Radio Free Europe reported.

Kadyrov’s latest version contradicted a video purportedly posted by Bakaev on Youtube in September showing a man appearing to be the singer claiming he had moved to Germany. Bakaev’s friends and family pointed to several elements of the video, such as the closed curtains and the scripted-sounding statements, that cast doubt over its veracity, OC Media reported.

This article was updated with a comment from Voices4 received after publication.

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