A Russian singer reportedly arrested as part of Chechnya's anti-gay crackdown was murdered shortly after being detained, a source tells NewNowNext.
Zelimkhan Bakaev was last seen on August 8 in Grozny, where he had come from Moscow for his sister's wedding. His family say they haven't heard from him since and have been unable to get answers about his fate.
At a press conference Monday, where a victim of the anti-gay purge came forward, Russian LGBT Network founder Igor Kochetkov brought up the mystery of Bakaev’s disappearance publicly for the first time.
"We received confirmation of our earlier presumption that Bakaev was detained by Chechen authorities due to suspicion of homosexuality," he said.
A source close to activists in the region now tells NewNowNext Bakaev, 26, was tortured to death. "He arrived in Grozny and was picked up by police within three hours," they claimed. "Within ten hours he was murdered."
“Over the past two months, the international community hoped that rumors of Zelim’s death were only that," said Shawn Gaylor of Human Rights First in a statement. "But as we continued to raise concerns with the State Department, that hope dimmed. We are now forced to conclude that he was tragically swept up in this anti-gay purge and lost his life because of it."
Authorities have denied knowing anything about Bakaev's whereabouts, suggesting he simply left the country.
Last month, a YouTube video of a man resembling Bakaev was picked up by government-controlled media in Chechnya. In it, the man claimed to be the singer and said he was in Germany.
“There is absolutely nothing to do in Grozny or Moscow. Because there are a lot of assholes," the man claims. "Here people are absolutely different - you go out, everyone smiles at you. Absolutely different outlook."
Activists say it's a fraud, though, pointing out that a Russian energy drink and furniture seen in the video are not available in Germany.
Russian television reported Bakaev wrote to his mother and aunt on WhatsApp in September that he was alive and well and living abroad, before turning off his phone.
Note: This story has been updated to include a statement abott Bakaev from Human Rights First