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September 14, 2017

State Department Urged to Take Action in Russian, Chechen Rights Abuses

Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First today called on senior officials in the State Department to take action in the cases of Zelim Bakaev and Evdokia Romanova, two Russian citizens targeted by authorities. Bakaev, an up-and-coming singer born in Chechnya, was detained by authorities early last month and has not been heard from since. Romanova is a young activist charged with violating Russia’s notorious propaganda law and is set to stand trial next week. 

The call today came in private letter to Senior Advisor Michael G. Kozak and Deputy Assistant Secretary Kathy Kavelec asking for immediate engagement with their counterparts in the Russian and Chechen governments to ensure justice in the two cases. The organization sent a similar letter to the U.S. embassy in Moscow.

“These two cases exemplify the danger the Russian LGBT community and their supporters face,” said Human Rights First’s Shawn Gaylord. “They have been targeted by law enforcement and denied fundamental rights, and they are looking to the international community for support. The State Department must step up and take action to protect those who have been subject to these abuses.”

Zelim Bakaev has been living in Moscow but returned to his hometown of Grozny in Chechnya to attend his sister’s wedding. According to reports he was detained by men in Chechen military uniforms on the evening of August 8. In the month since, despite multiple requests from his family members, authorities have not revealed his whereabouts. His disappearance comes during a continued campaign of persecution of LGBT Chechens in which hundreds have been illegally detained and tortured.

Romanova is charged with violating Russia’s gay propaganda law prohibiting the distribution of materials promoting “non-traditional” sexual relations to minors based on her reposting of various articles on social media. The law has been used to uphold the constitutionality of a one-hundred-year ban on pride parades in Moscow and to justify crackdowns on LGBT events and demonstrations across Russia. It additionally provides an air of legitimacy for the persecution of the LGBT community and has served as a template for other countries in the region. 

“For anyone who thought that the crisis in Chechnya was no longer a concern, Zelim’s case proves that the basic pattern of arbitrary detention continues. We fear that he has may have been mistreated during this detention, as have hundreds of other men,” added Gaylord. “Alongside that, Evdokia's case shows that the use of this outrageous propaganda law continues well, despite the new attention being paid to Russia’s abuses of its LGBT citizens.”

For more information or to speak with Gaylord, contact Christopher Plummer at PlummerC@humanrightsfirst.org or 202-370-3310.