Chechnya is still killing gay men. Now a prominent Russian singer may be dead.

In August, Russian singer Zelimkhan Bakayev traveled from Moscow to Chechnya to celebrate his sister's wedding. Then, he vanished. His online activity came to a halt; his Instagram account was deactivated. With few options and even fewer answers, his mother called on Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov last month to provide clarity, desperate to know what had happened to her son.

How does a high-profile Russian singer simply ... disappear?

It's likely, officials believe, Bakayev was swept up in Chechnya's horrifying and ongoing anti-gay purge targeting queer men like him.


This past spring, Moscow newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported Chechen officials were arresting, torturing, and even murdering men believed to be gay or bisexual.

In undisclosed state prisons, officials were (and are likely continuing to) torture detainees, often pushing victims to provide information on other gay men in the region so other arrests could be made. Kadyrov reportedly set a deadline to "eliminate" Chechnya's gay and bisexual population by the start of Ramadan: May 26, 2017.

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. Photo by Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images.

Tragically, Bakayev may be among those killed.

While Chechen officials have denied the broad accusations about the purge, multiple human rights groups operating in or around the region — notably, the Russian LGBT Network and Amnesty International — claim the arrests and murders are happening and haven't stopped in the months following initial reports.

At a press conference on Oct. 16, Russian LGBT Network founder Igor Kochetkov told reporters his organization learned Bakayev's disappearance was linked to the anti-gay purge: "At the end of August, we received confirmation of our earlier presumption that Bakayev was detained by Chechen authorities due to suspicion of homosexuality."

YouTube videos uploaded after Bakayev's arrest make his disappearance particularly odd and alarming.

Following the singer's arrest in Chechnya's capital city of Grozny, bizarre YouTube videos — linked to a suspicious account that hasn't published any other content — were shared showing Bakayev alone in a room (aside from  a person filming), listening to music and drinking energy drinks, Newsweek reported. The curtains on the windows had been pulled.

An image lifted from a suspicious YouTube video of Bakayev published on Sept. 24, 2017.

In the video, Bakayev tells viewers he's spending time enjoying himself in Germany. But viewers have pointed out the drinks in the video aren't available in Germany and the furniture spotted in the room is made by a Russian company. Had the videos been made to give false hope to the public of Bakayev's safety?

Now, friends are fearing the worst. NewNowNext reported on Oct. 20 that Bakayev has been murdered, pointing to an anonymous tip as its source. As Chechnya has no free press and victims are understandably fearful to go on record, information concerning the singer has been difficult to verify. (Upworthy has reached out to the Russian LGBT Network to learn more about the status of Bakayev's situation; this article may be updated.)

The world isn't paying enough attention to Chechnya's relentless anti-gay purge. But you can help change that.

Share this article with family and friends. Contact your representatives and demand that they speak up on the matter. Sign this petition by Amnesty International calling on authorities to investigate the situation and bring those accountable to justice. Call on President Donald Trump — who has yet to speak up on the matter — to do more in pressuring Russian President Vladimir Putin and Kadyrov to halt Chechnya's crackdown on queer men in the region.

We can't let this injustice continue.

Update (10/25/17): The Russian LGBT Network confirmed via email that Bakayev remains missing: "We know only that Zelim disappeared, and that the law enforcement agencies did not do anything to find him," a communications manager from the network explains. "We cannot confirm that he is dead."

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels
True

Increasingly customers are looking for more conscious shopping options. According to a Nielsen survey in 2018, nearly half (48%) of U.S. consumers say they would definitely or probably change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment.

But while many consumers are interested in spending their money on products that are more sustainable, few actually follow through. An article in the 2019 issue of Harvard Business Review revealed that 65% of consumers said they want to buy purpose-driven brands that advocate sustainability, but only about 26% actually do so. It's unclear where this intention gap comes from, but thankfully it's getting more convenient to shop sustainably from many of the retailers you already support.

Amazon recently introduced Climate Pledge Friendly, "a new program to help make it easy for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products." When you're browsing Amazon, a Climate Pledge Friendly label will appear on more than 45,000 products to signify they have one or more different sustainability certifications which "help preserve the natural world, reducing the carbon footprint of shipments to customers," according to the online retailer.

Amazon

In order to distinguish more sustainable products, the program partnered with a wide range of external certifications, including governmental agencies, non-profits, and independent laboratories, all of which have a focus on preserving the natural world.

Keep Reading Show less

In the hours before he was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States, then-President-elect Biden was sent a letter signed by 17 freshmen GOP members of the House of Representatives.

In sharp contrast to the 121 Republican House members who voted against the certification of Biden's electoral votes—a constitutional procedure merely check-marking the state certifications that had already taken place—this letter expresses a desire to "rise above the partisan fray" and work together with Biden as he takes over the presidency.

The letter reads:

Dear President-elect Biden,

Congratulations on the beginning of your administration and presidency. As members of this freshman class, we trust that the next four years will present your administration and the 117thCongress with numerous challenges and successes, and we are hopeful that – despite our ideological differences – we may work together on behalf of the American people we are each so fortunate to serve.

After two impeachments, lengthy inter-branch investigations, and, most recently, the horrific attack on our nation's capital, it is clear that the partisan divide between Democrats and Republicans does not serve a single American.

Keep Reading Show less
True

If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.