Brothers detained in Chechnya go on hunger strike

Salek Magamadov and Ismail Isayev, gay men detained in Chechnya

Salekh Magamadov and Ismail Isaev, gay brothers detained in Chechnya, have begun a hunger strike after a judge denied a request to move their case to another region.

The brothers fled to Russia in June 2020 with the help of the Russian LGBT Network after they were tortured in Chechnya, the site of deadly so-called “gay purges”, for running an opposition Telegram channel.

Tragically, the two men were forcefully returned to Chechnya in February 2021 on terrorism-related charges that activists say are completely fabricated. Magamadov and Isaev face up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

The Russian LGBT Network said in a statement through its crisis group “North Caucasus SOS” that Magamadov and Isaev “declared the beginning of a hunger strike”.

The Washington Blade reported the declaration came after a judge denied the brothers’ request to move their case from Achknoy-Martan, a locality in Chechnya’s Achkhoy-Martanovsky District, to another court in the semi-autonomous Russian region.

The group said that Magamadov and Isaev had been detained in “the Detention Center No 1 in Grozny, Chechen Republic [for] more than 10 months”, the Advocate reported.

“They have reported being tortured during this time but the Investigation Committee refused to investigate the fact of torturing and to initiate a criminal case,” the group said. “Magamadov and Isaev have said pressure has been applied to them and that they were forced to refuse from legal support.”

The group also claimed that the brothers had been threatened with “honour killings” by distant relatives on television in Chechnya.

The Russian LGBT Network told Russian news site Meduza in March that the men’s friends and families had been encouraged by Chechen police to perform “honour killings”.

In a bizarre turn of events, the gay men were also offered state protection in Chechnya to prevent the “honour killings”.

The Russian LGBT Network petitioned Chechnya’s investigative committee to protect Magamadov and Isayev, according to the Moscow Times. But there was no clarification at the time as to what this protection looked like.

Earlier this year, police in Chechnya also detained and interrogated at least 20 people related to Magamadov and Isayev. The police reportedly demanded to know the whereabouts of Isayev and Magamadov’s parents, who had also fled Chechnya.

The men’s mother, Zara Magamadova, filmed an appeal with the Russian LGBT+ Network accusing authorities of “fabricating” the case against her children.

“I’m asking anyone who can help, please help me see my sons alive and in good health,” she said.

Reports began to emerge in 2017 of a “gay purge” in Chechnya, involving mass detention, abductions, torture and abuse of human rights against the LGBT+ community. Tragically, there have been several reports of such persecution in the years following.

Ramzan Kadryov, the leader of Chechnya, has denied the reports as well as the existence of any LGBT+ people in the region. The US sanctioned Kadyrov in 2020 for his “involvement in gross violations of human rights”.