Brothers who Fled Chechnya Arrested, Returned to Homeland

The State Department has expressed concern over the fate of two brothers from Chechnya who were arrested in Russia and returned to their homeland from which they fled.

"We are troubled by reports of two Chechen siblings in the LGBTQI+ community who were detained in Russia and returned to Chechnya on dubious 'terrorism' charges," tweeted spokesperson Ned Price, who is openly gay, on Tuesday. "They reported torture during a previous detention, and we worry they may face additional abuse."

The Russian LGBT Network says police in the Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod on Feb. 4 arrested Salekh Magamadov, 20, and Ismail Isteyev, 17. ABC News reports local police transferred the brothers to the custody of Chechen authorities who brought them to Gudermes, a town that is outside the Chechen capital of Grozny.

Chechnya is a semi-autonomous Russian republic in the North Caucasus. The anti-LGBTQ crackdown in Chechnya — which includes arrests, torture and even killings — has sparked outrage around the world.

The Russian LGBT Network says Chechen authorities in April 2020 arrested Magamadov and Isteyev after they made a series of posts on Osal Nakh 95, a Telegram channel used by opponents of Chechen President Raman Kadyrov, who is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Chechen authorities forced Magamadov and Isteyev to record what the Russian LGBT Network describes as "apology videos" after they were tortured. The Russian LGBT Network helped Magamadov and Isteyey flee Chechnya in June 2020 after their release.

"Welcome to Chechnya," a documentary that highlights the Russian LGBT Network's efforts to help LGBTQ Chechens flee their homeland, featured the brothers' case.

"We spoke out on that case because, of course, we are profoundly concerned," Price on Wednesday told reporters during his daily briefing at the State Department. "We know of the persecution that the LGBTQI community has faced in Chechnya, and this administration will speak out, speak out forcefully on their behalf both in Chechnya and around the world."

Price also noted last week's presidential memorandum that says the U.S. will promote LGBTQ rights abroad.

"The president put forward a presidential memorandum making clear that the policy of the United States government is to protect and to promote and defend the rights of LGBTQI people around the world," he said. "It is the policy with that presidential memorandum now in force to firmly oppose abuses against the LGBTQI persons, and we urge governments to repeal laws that criminalize individuals on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity."

Former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley and former State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert are among those in the Trump administration who publicly condemned the anti-LGBTQ crackdown in Chechnya. Former President Trump, for his part, did not.

"Salekh Magamadov and Ismail Isayev are in grave danger in Chechnya," said Marc Behrendt, director of Freedom House's Europe and Eurasia programs, on Tuesday in a press release. "Freedom House demands the two should immediately be examined by independent health professionals and receive unfettered access to their lawyers per the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights."

This article originally appeared in the Washington Blade and is made available in partnership with the National LGBT Media Association.