Update: On October 25, the Fifth General Jurisdiction Court of Cassation in Pyatigorsk rejected the appeal.
(Berlin) – Two men, whom police tortured in Chechnya, are appealing their conviction on false, politically motivated charges, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities should withdraw the charges against the two men, Salekh Magamadov and Ismail Isayev, who are brothers, void the conviction, immediately free them, and hold to account those responsible for torturing them.
On October 25, a regional appeal court in Pyatigorsk will hear their appeal against sentences of eight and six years in prison, respectively, for allegedly providing food to a member of an illegal armed group.
“The injustice against Magamadov and Isayev could not be more stark, and their freedom and well-being are at stake,” said Tanya Lokshina, associate Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The abuse against them is part of a long-standing pattern of persecution of critics by Chechen authorities.”
In 2020, Chechen authorities detained Magamadov and Isayev for activity on opposition messenger chats in support of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. Police held them for several months in basement cells at a police station, where, according to a criminal complaint filed by the brothers, the police tortured them. They were released without charge after authorities forced them to be filmed in an “apology” video that was published online. After their release, they sought help from the North Caucasus SOS rights group and took refuge in a crisis shelter in the Nizhny Novgorod region.
On February 4, 2021, Chechen authorities kidnapped the brothers from Nizhny Novgorod region of Russia and they resurfaced in Chechnya two days later. Magamadov and Isayev told their lawyer that Chechen police forced them into confessing to aiding an illegal armed group member. Their lawyer was not allowed to see them until their interrogation ended.
On February 22, 2022, Achkhoy-Martanovsky district court of the Chechen Republic imposed the sentences, later upheld on appeal by the Chechnya’s Supreme Court. The brothers’ lawyers are seeking to overturn the conviction.
The defense filed criminal complaints about the brothers’ mistreatment in 2020 and during their pre-trial detention, but the authorities declined to investigate.
Russia’s leading rights group Memorial considers Magamadov and Isayev to be political prisoners, in light of the insufficient and questionable evidence, coercion under torture, and other blatant due-process violations against them, the brothers’ opposition activism, and the broader pattern of abuses against LGBT people in Chechnya.
The brothers were members of the “Osal nakh 95” group on Telegram, where they criticized Chechen authorities. Several of the group’s other members had also been forced, presumably by Chechen law enforcement, into recording apologies for their activity on the channel.
The torture, kidnapping and prosecution against Isayev and Magamadov is just one example of the brutal campaign against dissent in Chechnya, Human Rights Watch said. In 2020, state agents kidnapped and tortured Salman Tepsurkayev, the moderator of a popular anti-government social media group, 1ADAT, as found by the European Court of Human Rights in the case he brought to the court. In August 2022, 1ADAT and Team Against Torture, a prominent Russian human rights group, reported that Tepsurkayev had been killed in 2020. Chechen courts banned the group’s activities as “extremist.”
The authorities also abducted dozens of relatives of 1ADAT members who had fled Russia. In January 2022, Chechen police abducted Zarema Mussaeva, the mother of Ibragim Yangulbaev, one of 1ADAT’s leaders, from her Nizhny Novgorod apartment, claiming she was a witness in a fraud case. They took her to Chechnya and falsely charged her with using violence against a police officer. The next day, Ramzan Kadyrov, head of the Chechen Republic, on his Telegram channel threatened the whole Yangulbaev family with prison and death. Other high-profile Chechen law enforcement officials also publicly threatened to murder them. At the time of writing, Mussaeva remains in jail pending trial.
Chechen authorities regularly and violently persecute people they presume to be LGBT. Lack of any effective investigations into the widely documented illegal detentions and torture serves to encourage this practice. Key international actors should continue to press Moscow to put an end to persecution of LGBT people and critics of the government in Chechnya and ensure justice for survivors, Human Rights Watch said.