HRW and AI condemn prison sentences against two Chechen brothers from the LGTBI community

A protest in London against LGTBIphobia in Chechnya (Archive) – CLAIRE DOHERTY / ZUMA PRESS / CONTACTOPHOTO

NGOs Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International (AI) on Tuesday condemned the prison sentences against two Chechen brothers from the LGTBI community, who have been «falsely» accused of «aiding illegal armed groups».

AI’s Europe and Central Asia director, Marie Struthers, called the trial of Salekh Magamadov, sentenced to eight years, and Ismail Isaev, sentenced to six years, respectively, «absurd» and called on the Chechen authorities for their «immediate and unconditional release».

«Their only ‘crime’ in the eyes of the Chechen authorities is their open participation in the LGBTI community and peaceful criticism of the local authorities. Expressing oneself freely has become a serious crime in Chechnya and Russia in general,» he said.

Struthers was referring to the fact that, before the Pyatigorsk Fifth Cassation Court upheld their convictions, both Isaev — who is gay — and Magamadov — a gender-fluid person — moderated Osal Naj 95, a Telegram channel run by young people critical of the Chechen authorities.

In August 2019, Ismail Isaev, then 16, was abducted, held incommunicado, tortured and subjected to other ill-treatment before being forced to «apologize» on camera for his alleged association with Osal Naj 95, AI has alleged.

For its part, HRW said, before learning of the conviction, that the Chechen police held them for months in basement cells, also confirming torture and alleging that they were forced to confess «falsely» that they had helped members of armed groups.

«The abuse against them is part of a long-standing pattern of persecution of critics by the Chechen authorities,» HRW Europe and Central Asia associate director Tanya Lokshina has argued in a statement.

The NGO added that Russia’s leading rights group, Memorial, considers both to be political prisoners, in light of the abuses against them, as well as «widespread abuses against LGBTI people in Chechnya.»

«The lack of effective investigations into widely documented illegal detentions and torture serves to encourage this practice. Key international actors must continue to press Moscow to end the persecution of LGBT people and government critics in Chechnya and ensure justice for survivors,» HRW concluded.