Chechen refugee ‘forcibly disappeared’ in Russia after being detained over his sexuality

An agent in a black puffa coat confronting Idris

Human and LGBTQ+ rights organisations claim that authorities in Russia have “forcibly disappeared” a gay refugee who fled Chechnya.

Idris Arsamikov, who moved to the Netherlands in 2018, was arrested on 15 February after returning for his father’s funeral.

He was detained at Moscow airport when trying to return to his new home.

In a statement, published by Human Rights Watch today (27 February), and co-signed by the likes of Amnesty International, World Organisation Against Torture, and COC Netherlands – the world’s oldest existing LGBT organisation – the groups say Arsamikov’s “whereabouts remain unknown”.

They stress “his safety and life are at risk”, explaining that enforced disappearances mean both a person’s whereabouts and fate are unknown.

“Russian authorities should immediately release him, and in the event of any further delay in his release, disclose his whereabouts, protect his right to security of person, ensure that he is not subjected to torture and other ill-treatment, and grant him access to a lawyer,” the statement demanded.

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The organisations claim that Arsamikov was arrested on fabricated fraud charges, citing he had returned to Russia in March 2022 and was only arrested almost a year later when trying to leave (because of various issues, he did not have a “travel passport” to leave earlier).

The statement claims the police cited his arrest charges are in relation to a fraud investigation started in 2021, when Arsamikov was living in the Netherlands, and, according to a lawyer representing him, the arrest sheet was signed only hours before he was detained.

The groups say there are “strong concerns” that Arsamikov is being persecuted for his “perceived sexual orientation” because the fraud allegations only surfaced after he managed to leave Chechnya, and because of the Chechen authorities’ record of ill-treating men for their presumed sexual orientation.

“Arsamikov’s persecution fits a pattern by which Chechen authorities arrest and detain LGBTI people and human rights defenders on politically motivated, fabricated charges,” the statement says.

News outlet Meduza has previously reported that 28-year-old Arsamikov fled Chechnya after being tortured to get him to admit his sexuality.

The statement says he told human rights defenders he was arbitrarily obtained and also tortured in the Shelkovskoy district police department at least three times since returning to Russia.

The groups say two videos were posted on Arsamikov’s social media on the day of his arrest, showing him at home with his mother and uncle, who both say he is fine “and denouncing human rights defenders’ efforts to help him”.

The campaigners say other statements made “appear to have been forcibly extracted” and that there are prominent cases involving arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances where Chechen law enforcement staged videos.

The videos also appear to show Arsamikov saying he was likely to get married in Chechnya soon, that he’s fine and that he might go to fight in Ukraine “to defend [Russia’s] honour”.