Persecution of LGBTQ+ people -- and their families -- is continuing unabated in Chechnya.
Two gay brothers have been jailed in the Russian region for a month awaiting trial on terrorism charges their friends, family, and activists say are unfounded, The Moscow Times reports. Police there detained 20 of their relatives for two hours Tuesday in an attempt to locate the men's parents, who have fled the area, according to the Times.
Chechnya is part of Russia but has the status of a semi-autonomous republic. Under the dictatorial rule of Russian-approved President Ramzan Kadyrov since 2007, Chechnya has seen persecution of many groups. Reports emerged in 2017 that LGBTQ+ people, mostly gay and bisexual men, were being jailed and tortured, and some even killed, by police and other government authorities. Survivors released into the custody of their families often face further danger there.
Brothers Salekh Magamadov and Ismail Isayev, now 20 and 18 respectively, were jailed and tortured in Chechnya last year for being gay, and they left the region after their release. Conditions of their release included recording a sort of apology to the authorities in which both said they were not really men. They were arrested in the Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod in February and are being held in a detention center in Chechnya on charges that they assisted a terrorist group by providing food, according to the Russian LGBT Network. There is no evidence to back up the charges, the activist group says, but they were forced to sign statements incriminating themselves. If convicted, they could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison.
Their parents left Chechnya after police pressured their father, Sayputy Isayev, to waive his right to a lawyer. The authorities then detained and questioned the other relatives Tuesday in an unknown location.
The brothers' mother, Zara Magamadova, appeared on social media last week in a video pleading for their release and saying the charges against them have no basis in fact. "I'm asking anyone who can help, please help me see my sons alive and in good health," she said. The video was released March 17, Ismail Isayev's 18th birthday.
The U.S. State Department and the European officials have expressed concern about the men. "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," State Department spokesman Ned Price, who is gay, tweeted in February. "They reported torture during a previous detention, and we worry they may face additional abuse." He also mentioned President Joe Biden's commitment to protecting LGBTQ+ people from persecution around the world.
The European Court of Human Rights ordered Chechnya last month to provide the men access to independent lawyers, health care, and their next of kin, but it took several weeks for them to be allowed to meet with their lawyers, the Russian LGBT Network notes.
Monday the European Union sanctioned two Chechen officials for their actions in the general anti-LGBTQ+ crackdown in the region, the Washington Blade reports.
Abuzaid Vismuradov, Chechnya's deputy prime minister and commander of a military unit, "personally oversees widespread and systemic persecutions in Chechnya" against LGBTQ+ people and others suspected of opposing Kadyrov, according to the Official Journal of the European Union. Aiub Kataev, a Chechnya-based official with the Russian Internal Affairs Ministry, has "personally supervised and took part in torturing detainees," the journal account says.
Under the sanctions, the men's assets are frozen, they are barred from traveling to the E.U., and E.U. citizens may not send money to them, the Blade reports.