‘Nobody is safe in Chechnya’: Life of torture survivor accused of being gay at risk, activists say

Side by side pictures of Salman Mukaev, a man who fled Chechnya after he was arrested and tortured by authorities over false accusations that he's gay

In 2020, a man fled Chechnya to Armenia after he was jailed, beaten and electrocuted by police who accused him of being gay. Now, a global campaign is calling on the country to ensure he isn’t extradited back to Russia on spurious charges . 

Global LGBTQ+ advocacy group All Out and NC SOS – activists who help queer folks and other marginalised people in crisis in the North Caucasus region of Russia – launched a campaign calling on Armenian authorities to stop the extradition of Salman Mukaev to Russia and save his life. 

Mukaev, a heterosexual man who was born and raised in Chechnya, fled the country in March 2020 after he was arrested and beaten because of an allegation that he’s gay. 

The allegations are extremely dangerous given the violent ‘gay purge’ in Chechnya carried out by authorities. The anti-LGBTQ+ crackdown, first revealed in 2017, saw dozens of men abducted, tortured and killed for their real or perceived sexual orientation. 

Over the course of seven days, Mukaev was tied up, choked, electrocuted and forced to declare that he had a sexual relationship with a male friend. 

After enduring such torture, the Chechen man was made to sign blank sheets of paper under the threat that authorities would charge him with fabricated charges of illegal storage of ammunition if he didn’t cooperate with them. 

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Chechen security forces pressured Mukaev to meet queer men online and lure them into a special apartment where they would be detained by authorities. But Mukaev courageously refused and fled the country in fear for his life on the same day he was released.  

At the moment, Mukaev is in Armenia, but the country is threatening to send him back to Russia due to a fake criminal case initiated in the country. If he is extradited, activists fear he’ll be handed back to Chechen authorities, where he could be executed. 

The next hearing for his case is scheduled for 12 September, so the urgency to save his life is real.

Yuri Guaiana, senior campaigns manager for All Out, said Mukaev’s “horrifying experience” shed light on the “chilling and immediate reality” that many people face in Chechnya. So it’s important that people rally in support of Mukaev and help save his life. 

All Out believes that, by coming together, people can put pressure on Armenian authorities to grant Mukaev asylum in the country or allow him safe passage to somewhere else in Europe.

Aleksandra Miroshnikova, a spokesperson for NC SOS, told PinkNews that Mukaev’s case further underlies the fact that “nobody is safe” – especially LGBTQ+ people – in Chechnya or even in Russia

“They can’t just go to another region of Russia like Moscow, St Petersburg and just live their lives,” she says. 

“They are not even safe in other countries … because Salman left the country. 

“He’s a free person. He can go wherever he wants to go, and he has a European country that is waiting for him that is ready to get him asylum. 

“But he can’t leave Armenia now because of a criminal case that was fabricated in Russia.” 

Miroshnikova described Mukaev as the “most ordinary man you can find in Chechnya”. He’s not “some kind of activist” or politician. 

He, like many others, are just “ordinary” citizens who were prosecuted by authorities for no reason at all, Miroshnikova said. 

Russia’s republic of Chechnya has been under fire ever since stories of the ‘gay purge’ by authorities arose five years ago

In 2017, the eyes of the world focused on Chechnya after reports emerged that that the Russian region was a hotbed of severe atrocities against its LGBTQ+ community. 

Horrifying stories of mass detentions, torture and murders became public. The harrowing reports sparked global outrage and protests, but it did not stop the persecution. 

The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights estimates that Chechen security forces arrested, imprisoned and tortured over 150 people between 2017 and 2020. Most were queer men. 

Activists hold up signs reading 'Chechnya stop the crackdown' and 'Some people are gay (or trans) get over it' during a protest
Activists around the world have denounced the anti-LGBTQ+ violence in Chechnya. (Getty)

When questioned about the violence against LGBTQ+ in the region, Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-appointed leader of Chechnya, said anybody who defends “human rights groups and the gays” are “foreign agents” who “sold out their country, their people, their religion, everything”. 

Human rights defenders and journalists have been attacked for speaking out. Last year, a Chechen politician threatened to “cut the heads off” the family of an anti-torture activist whose mother was arrested and forcibly returned to the republic. 

Chechen authorities have persecuted women in the deeply conservative region. There are reports that honour crimes – most often, the murder of a woman or girl by family members who claim the victim brought dishonour upon the family name – still occur in the region. 

Miroshnikova said that Mukaev’s story is just one of many people who have faced persecution in Chechnya. But many people “may not survive” or be able to leave the region to be able to tell their stories to the world – which is why getting a positive outcome in Mukaev’s case is desperately needed.   

“Salman’s case is one of the many, many cases,” she said. 

“The main reason why we should underline this case and get as many people as possible to be involved is because if a decision would be positive for Salman, it would create precedent for citizens who have fabricated criminal cases in Russia and you can prove that this case is fabricated – and the way I can surely can prove this because we have the tortures and context of leaving Chechnya and so on. 

“And if you can prove that your case was fabricated, then probably you would be safe in Armenia and in some other post-Soviet countries. 

“If the decision would be positive for Salman, it would be positive for so many other people who can be in the same position as Salman.”

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