A video circulating on Russian social media shows a young man apparently being forced to penetrate himself with a glass bottle: a forced punishment for allegedly helping to “spread lies” about Chechen authorities. It once again highlights the Chechen leadership’s unrelenting brutality and Moscow’s active tolerance of their lawlessness and violence. Today, Novaya Gazeta reported that according to their sources, the man in the video, 19-year-old Salman Tepsurkayev, was kidnapped by Chechen security officials on September 5 and taken to the Terek Special Rapid Response Police Compound in Grozny.
Tepsurkayev is a moderator for the Telegram channel 1ADAT, which routinely features dissident voices, including those critical of Chechnya’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, and the Kremlin’s complicity in human rights abuses in Chechnya. In June, 1ADAT extensively covered the suspicious death of Madina Umaeva, a young Chechen woman who had suffered domestic violence for years. 1ADAT published a video of Kadyrov personally pressuring Umaeva’s mother to stop seeking justice for what she believes is her daughter’s murder. At the time, Human Rights Watch sent a letter to Russia’s chief investigative agency calling on them to take the case under their control. This week we received an official response saying the authorities saw no grounds for a criminal investigation.
Government critics and other undesirables in the Chechen Republic risk retaliation from a ruthless security apparatus, and scant avenues for recourse if they fall victim to it. Kadyrov controls virtually all aspects of social life, including politics, religion, academic discourse, and family matters. In 2017 and 2019, Chechen authorities orchestrated lethal purges of men perceived to be gay or bisexual. No matter how egregious the abuses, Moscow does nothing to provide accountability.
Public humiliation of people who speak out isn’t new in Chechnya. Umaeva’s mother was forced to apologize on local television for speaking to the press and demanding an investigation into her daughter’s death. But even by the Chechen government’s despicable standards, the recent video of Tepsurkayev is particularly violent. He is still missing and his fate unknown.
Despite repeated appeals by key international interlocuters, the Russian government has done nothing to rein in Chechnya’s leadership. The Tepsurkayev video is further evidence that the Kremlin’s complicity is fueling impunity and giving Chechen authorities the green light to resort to unthinkable brutality to instill terror and eliminate all forms of dissent.