February 06, 2024

"I'm Alive" a Harrowing Escape


"I'm Alive" a Harrowing Escape
"Chechen mothers mourn their children," an action in St. Petersburg to draw attention to LGBT penitentiary camps in 2017.  Ilya Astakhov, Wikimedia Commons.

In June 2022, four men in Chechnya filmed themselves interrogating Rizvan Dadaev, in which they forced him to confess on camera that he had sex with another man. The video went viral and Dadaev disappeared.

A year and a half later, independent news outlet Meduza has found Dadaev, who escaped Russia and has published his story.

Dadaev was tortured for the first time in 2017. A friend introduced him to a gay man named Maxim Lapunov. Then the friend turned Dadaev into the police. Dadaev saw Lapunov for the first time in prison, but they did not share a cell. The police asked Dadaev, "Do you know anyone else [in the LGBT community in Chechnya]?" and proceeded to give him electric shocks and hit him with electrical cords.

After being released, Dadaev could not leave his house for a month. He didn't communicate with anyone and "sat in the shadows."

In 2022, Dadaev met a man on the dating app Azar. After having dinner with the man, his cousin, and one of his friends, Dadaev asked, "Are you 'in the topic'?" The man responded, "I'm 'in,'" and they had sex. They agreed to have a second encounter at Dadaev's place.

But the man knocked on the wrong apartment door, which turned out to house Chechen security agents. He messaged Dadaev, "You wanted to set me up. Don't write me anymore." A few hours later, the police knocked on Dadaev's door. They had with them the man he had sex with, but the police let the man go, tied Dadaev to a chair, and proceeded to kick him and torture him with electric shocks. After several days, Dadaev was released.

Later, when Dadaev went to meet with a friend, he was ambushed by a group of men who had stolen the friend's phone. They were not police but "impostors who were killing people like me," Dadaev said, "to 'clean the Republic' [of Chechnya]."

The men shoved Dadaev into a car and drove into a forest. They tied his hands, hit him with a hammer, punched him, kicked him, and filmed it all – this was the viral video. They forced him to say the names of people he was corresponding with. They stole his money and his phone, along with passwords to his social media accounts. The men then found a message on his VKontakte account in which a man offered to smoke pot together. They drove to the coffee shop where that man worked and beat him up. Dadaev fled to Krasnodar (outside Chechnya), but later returned to Grozny at his family's urging.

Four days later, the police knocked on Dadaev's door. Agents showed him the video the men had recorded in the forest and proceeded to arrest the four men as well as Dadaev. Dadaev spent six months locked in a basement. During that time, a police officer "took a hose and, how do I say it, tore me from the inside (...) Because of these monsters, I am suffering now, I can't sit normally." Deni Aidamirov, a Chechen security official, also allegedly knocked Dadaev's front teeth out. Upon Dadaev's release, Aidamidov threatened to arrest Dadaev and his father and brother.

Then, Dadaev received a message, "Come on, can we get you out of Grozny?" The LGBT-rights organization Severny Kavkas SOS (Northern Caucasus SOS) was offering to get him out of the country. Dadaev immediately packed his bags and lied to his father, saying he was leaving for work.

Dadaev's first stop was a former Soviet republic. Then he headed to Europe, where he currently lives. He told Meduza, "When I left Grozny, all the stones that had accumulated in my soul, they all fell away. I felt freedom."

Dadaev had a message for his family: "I would like them to know I'm alive." While in exile, Dadaev learned that Russia had declared the LGBT community an "extremist organization": "I'm worried for everyone who stayed," he said, "for everyone I know."

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