LGBT advocates in Chechnya have long believed that Russian singer Zelimkhan Bakaev, who went missing in August 2017, was killed as a part of the country’s ongoing anti-gay purge.
But in comments on state television this week, Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov suggested the 25-year-old was murdered by family members ashamed of his sexuality.
“His relatives, who didn’t keep an eye on him and were ashamed that he was one of them, now say that [I] took him,” he told an audience filled with security officers. “His family couldn’t stop him, and then called him back home, and his brothers, it seems, accused him of being one of those [homosexuals].”
Kadyrov also denied authorities had anything to do with his disappearance, and called on someone in Bakaev’s family to come clean: “Isn’t there anyone in the village, any man in the family, who can admit: ’We did this’? They know full well who it was.”
Bakaev was last seen on August 8 in Grozny. NewNowNext spoke with human rights activists who allege that, shortly after his arrival, he was picked up by security forces on suspicion of homosexuality. He was then reportedly detained and tortured to death, either accidentally or intentionally.
— Human Rights First (@humanrights1st) August 31, 2017
“He arrived in Grozny and was picked up by police within three hours. Within ten hours he was murdered.”
In September, a video surfaced of Bakaev allegedly alive and well in a German hotel room, but experts insist the clip was clearly staged. They worry he may have already been dead by the time it was posted on YouTube.
Previously, officials for the regime maintained Bakaev likely went to Europe. But pinning his murder on family could be seen as a way for Kadyrov to shift blame, especially as Chechnya was hit with U.S. sanctions last month over reports of torture and extrajudicial killings.
Bakaev’s father, Khussein Bakaev, told Radio Free Europe that the family had no involvement in his son’s disappearance.
“None of his relatives laid a finger on him,” he said. “There was no reason to lay a finger on him.”
In a video posted this week, an unknown woman called on Kadyrov to give the young singer’s body to his family.
“Give Zelimkhan to his mother,” she said, whose face is obscured by a burqa. “You also have a mother. You have no shame, no conscience. You are unworthy to be the head of the republic, you cannot even work as a shepherd. You could not keep a herd of sheep safe until evening.”