Two gay men who escaped to Russia from Chechnya have been arrested by Russian police and returned to their home country, according to the Russian LGBT Network.

The organisation said it helped the men, Salekh Magamadov and Ismail Isayev, flee to Russia to avoid persecution in June of last year after they were arrested for running an opposing channel on the messaging app Telegram. Although spokesman Tim Bestvet said their arrest was initially because of their sexual orientation. They were tortured by Chechen special police and forced to film an apology.

One of the men rang the Network’s emergency assistance coordinator late last week, and screaming was heard in the background. When their lawyer arrived at their apartment half an hour later, it was empty and had signs of a struggle.

The aide of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, Akhmed Dudyaev, said that the men, aged only 20 and 17, had been detained on the suspicion of “aiding terrorism” and had confessed to helping an illegal armed group.

 Dudyaev claimed that the detention was legal and that any attempt to influence the case would be “senseless and futile”. If found guilty, Magamadov and Isayev could be sentenced to up to 15 years imprisonment.

The Russian LGBT Network is trying to get access to the men, but there are fears they are in “mortal danger”. Interior Ministry’s Chechnya branch and the Federal Security Service (FSB) were not available for comment when asked by the Moscow Times on Saturday.

“There have been cases when relatives brought back to Chechnya people that we had evacuated and then these people would die or, we can say, were probably murdered,” Bestvet said.

Chechnya has been accused of widespread gay persecution since 2017, when gay men reported having been tortured by law enforcement. A second wave was reported in 2019 and included two murders.

A spokesman for the government dismissed the reports as “complete lies”, and Kadyrov denies that there are any LGBTQI people in the area at all.

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