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Lawyer says brothers returned to Chechnya have been tortured

Salekh Magamadov and Ismail Isaev fled anti-LGBTQ crackdown

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Grozny, Chechnya (Photo by Alexxx1979; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

GROZNY, Russia — The lawyer who represents two brothers from Chechnya who Russia returned to their homeland from which they had fled says they have been tortured.

The Russian LGBT Network in a press release it sent to the Los Angeles Blade said Alexander Nemov on Thursday met with Salekh Magamadov and Ismail Isaev in the jail in Grozny, the Chechen capital, where they are currently incarcerated.

“Previously the lawyer was being denied access to the facility under the pretense that the brothers had fallen ill with COVID-19 despite the fact that they were being held in solitary cells,” said the Russian LGBT Network. “The employees of the detention facility did not provide Mr. Nemov with any justification or legal basis for such non-admission.”

The Russian LGBT Network in its press release said Nemov “managed to talk to the detainees and they shared what had been happening to them, in other words — how they had been subjected to violence — and gave insight into possible reasons for the non-admission.”

Magamadov and Isaev said they were scheduled to appear in court on July 22.

“They were being brought there in the enclosed back compartment of a truck-like vehicle with no ventilation,” said the Russian LGBT Network. “Due to the heat Magamadov and Isaev felt sick, however, in response to their pleas to open the windows the employees of the detention facility escorting them started laughing and insulting the brothers because of their sexual orientation. Ismail then asked one of them to stop and that resulted in violent actions on the part of the escorting personnel.”

The Russian LGBT Network notes the brothers’ court appearance “was postponed with no explanation, although the defendants were brought to the court building and the lawyers were awaiting inside in the courtroom.”

“Magamadov and Isaev were never let out of the car and simply driven back to the detention facility,” says the Russian LGBT Network.

The Russian LGBT Network says Isaev was “put into a room with no cameras and rudely told how wrong he was, that he had no right to talk back to people who had authority over him” once he and his brother returned to the jail.

“After an hour of ‘conversations’ one of those who had been escorting us came into the room and started beating me — fists bumping into my face and body, and then, later, he tried to strangle me,” said Isaev in the Russian LGBT Network press release. “The deputy head of the detention facility who had been present during the entire ordeal only stopped him from strangling me — he dragged him away from me and I was brought back to my cell.”

The Russian LGBT Network says jail personnel earlier this month beat both brothers after they refused to shave their heads.

Magamadov claims jail personnel beat him on Aug. 11 after he refused to say “he cut himself because of a nervous breakdown, not because of violence he had experienced” when he refused to shave his head.

“They made me spread my legs as wide as possible and then were beating me for a long time,” Magamadov told the Russian LGBT Network. “I could not take it and told them that I would sign anything they wanted. After that they put me back in my cell.”

Isaev told the Russian LGBT Network he developed a fever after jail personnel attacked him on Aug. 12. Isaev says he “was visited by a case officer” on Wednesday “and it was demanded that he should not tell (sic) about the former events.”

“If he disobeyed, Ismail was told, his conditions would worsen and he would be put in solitary confinement,” notes the Russian LGBT Network.

The anti-LGBTQ crackdown in Chechnya, a semi-autonomous Russian republic in the North Caucasus has sparked outrage around the world.

The Russian LGBT Network says Chechen authorities in April 2020 arrested Magamadov and Isaev 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 reportedly forced the brothers to make “apology videos” after they were tortured.

The Russian LGBT Network helped Magamadov and Isaev flee Chechnya in June 2020 after their release.

Police in the Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod on Feb. 4 arrested the brothers and transferred them to the custody of Chechen authorities.

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Russia

Brittney Griner trial scheduled to begin July 1

WNBA star detained in Moscow airport in February

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(Screenshot from Russian television)

MOSCOW — A Russian court on Monday said detained WNBA star Brittney Griner’s trial will begin on July 1.

The Associated Press reported the Phoenix Mercury center and two-time Olympic gold medalist who is a lesbian and married to her wife, Cherelle Griner, will remain in custody through the duration of her trial. 

Officials at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February detained Brittney Griner after customs inspectors allegedly found hashish oil in her luggage. The State Department has determined that Russia “wrongfully detained” her.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on May 14 spoke with Cherelle Griner. 

Officials with the State Department’s Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs and Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs on June 13 met with Brittney Griner’s teammates to discuss her detention and efforts to secure her release.

Brittney Griner on June 18 was unable to speak with her wife on their fourth anniversary because the phone at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow that she called went unanswered. A State Department spokesperson later admitted a “logistical error” prevented Brittney Griner from speaking with Cherelle Griner.

Brittney Griner faces up to 10 years in prison if she is convicted.

The Human Rights Campaign and the Council for Global Equality are among the dozens of advocacy groups who signed a letter to President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris last week that urged them to do more to secure Brittney Griner’s release. 

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Russia

Criminal case against Russian femactivist Yulia Tsvetkova drags on

The criminal proceedings against Tsvetkova, who faces up to six years in prison, are closed to the press and public

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Undated picture of Yulia Tsvetkova & her self-drawing taken from VKontakte posts (Courtesy of Amnesty International)

KOMSOMOLSK-ON-AMUR, Khabarovsk Krai, Russia – Facing a potential sentence of six years in a Russian penal facility and just recently categorised as a  “foreign media agent” by the Russian government, 29-year-old feminist and artist Yulia Tsvetkova remains undaunted.

Authorities in this medium-sized city in the Russian Far East have been actively investigating and targeting Tsvetkova since 2017 after she posted nude drawings in a social media group of herself and others along with artwork supporting Russian LGBTQ+ people on VKontakte (VK.com) the giant Russian social networking platform.

She is charged with “production and dissemination of pornographic materials” (Article 242 (3b) of the Russian Criminal Code) for her body-positive drawings of vaginas on VK.com.

In addition Russian authorities have also been fined Tsvetkova 50,000 rubles for being the administrator of an LGBTQ+ Facebook page, and 75,000 rubles for a drawing depicting two same-sex couples with children. This month, the Russian Ministry of Justice added her to the register of foreign media agents, in part for her work supporting LGBTQ people.

This translates as: “Family is where the love is- support LGBTQ families!”

In an interview with journalist Nina Nazarova from the BBC Russian Service, so far, Tsvetkova said she has not received any official notification from the Russian Ministry of Justice regarding her inclusion in the register of foreign media agents.

“I don’t plan to take active steps myself to get registered, to make an insane and useless legal entity,” Tsvetkova told the BBC. “A lot depends on whether I end up in prison in the next month.

Her mother who she lives with, Anna Khodyreva, who is her unrelenting advocate, posted on her Facebook page about the designation.

“I am the mother of a foreign agent, and am very proud of this,” she wrote, using the Russian shorthand inoagent, which has entered the vernacular.

Tsvetkova was first investigated in 2017, but according to the BBC everything has changed since November 2019, when Tsvetkova became a defendant in five trials and, in fact, was locked up in Komsomolsk-on-Amur.

She was arbitrarily first detained on 20 November 2019 and remained under house arrest until 16 March 2020. There were delays in the trial proceedings that were marked by a continuing investigation by the Federal Security Service at the behest of Boris Viktorovich Kononenko,
the Chief Prosecutor of Komsomolsk-on-Amur.

A video released on YouTube on 15 Jun 2020 by author, activist and artist-writer Nicole Garneau details an overview of the case against Tsvetkova:

In August 2020, the Kulturfabrik Moabit in Berlin hosted an exhibition in solidarity with Yulia Tsvetkova. The exhibition was visited by about 300 people.

Courtesy of Kulturfabrik Moabit in Berlin, Germany

Independent political-journalist Matt Baume, writing for Them magazine reported last April this isn’t the first time that Tsvetkova has faced scrutiny under Russia’s discriminatory laws, however. In 2019, she directed a play criticizing gender stereotypes entitled Blue and Pink at Color of Saffron festival, an art fair for children in the eastern Russian city of Komsomolsk-on-Amur, and authorities reportedly forced the event to close in its entirety over concerns that organizers were “attempting to illegally hold an LGBT event,” according to The Art Newspaper.

Although the play was reportedly held for a small crowd in defiance of Russian authorities, Tsvetkova has been fined under the “propaganda” ban twice. She was forced $780 in 2019 for running an online support group for LGBTQ+ people and $658 last summer for a drawing that depicted loving same-sex families.

Speaking with the BBC Tsvetkova noted that the basis for the criminal charges stemmed from the public posts in the “Vkontakte” group “Vagina Monologues”, which was dedicated to feminist art and body positivity: it laid out artistic images of a naked female body.

The pictures of Tsvetkova herself, in particular, depicted women with wrinkles, stretch marks and body hair. Each of the drawings was signed with the phrase “Living women have …” and ended with the words “- and that’s fine!”

Tsvetkova’s posts from VK.com

Russian independent media outlet Novaya Gazeta reported that Dmitry Oblasov, the FSB regional head spurred on at the request of the Chief Prosecutor of Komsomolsk-on-Amur. wrote a letter to Victoria Tregubenko, Commissioner for Children’s Rights in the Khabarovsk Territory, asking the commissioner to study the content of Tsvetkova’s social networks for criminal violations.

The intent was to see that if in addition to the alleged penal code violations for production of pornography, provisions of the federal anti-LGBTQ ‘propaganda’ law had also been violated because of her advocacy for Russian LGBTQ+ people.

The criminal case by the Central District Court of Komsomolsk-on-Amur began in earnest in the spring of 2021. While criminal case endlessly endured delays and drags on, a civil case against a Russian right-wing extremist media outlet brought by Tsvetkova and her mother over use of video of the initial FSB raid on her house in 2019 that was leaked by FSB officers was lost and the women found themselves being forced to pay 180,000 rubles to that media outlet – allegedly for “defamation.”

The criminal proceedings against Tsvetkova, who faces up to six years in prison, are closed to the press and public.

The trial against Tsvetkova is coming to an end. On 14 June, the prosecution requested a jail term of three and a half years for “production and dissemination of pornography” for her VK.com posts.

The final hearing is expected to take place on 12 July according to Amnesty International. Tsvetkova will make her final statement and the sentence will be handed down shortly after.

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Russia

Brittney Griner unable to speak with wife on anniversary

Calls to embassy phone in Moscow went unanswered on Saturday

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Brittney Griner (Photo courtesy of Lorie Shaull, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

MOSCOW — A State Department spokesperson on Tuesday admitted a “logistical error” prevented detained WNBA star Brittney Griner from speaking with her wife over the weekend.

Cherelle Griner told the Associated Press that her wife’s lawyers said she tried to call her 11 times “over a period of several hours” on Saturday, which was the couple’s fourth anniversary.

The AP reported the Russian government approved the call.

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow, according to the AP, had given Brittney Griner a number that was to have allowed her to connect to her wife in Phoenix once an embassy staffer received the call. The AP reported each of the calls that Brittney Griner made went unanswered because nobody was at the desk where the phone was located. 

“I was distraught. I was hurt. I was done, fed up,” Cherelle Griner told the AP. “I’m pretty sure I texted BG’s agent and was like: ‘I don’t want to talk to anybody. It’s going to take me a minute to get my emotions together, and just tell everybody I’m unavailable right now.’ Because it just knocked me out. I wasn’t well, I’m still not well.”

Cherelle Griner said the call had been on her schedule for two weeks. She told the AP that she is “very pissed” about what happened.

“We deeply regret that Brittney Griner was unable to speak with her wife because of a logistical error,” the State Department spokesperson told the Washington Blade on Tuesday in a statement.

Officials at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February detained Brittney Griner — a center for the Phoenix Mercury — after customs inspectors allegedly found hashish oil in her luggage. The State Department has determined that Russia “wrongfully detained” her.

“We cannot call her a hostage,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told NBC News’ Keir Simmons on Monday. “She violated Russian law and now she is being prosecuted.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on May 14 spoke with Cherelle Griner. 

Officials with the State Department’s Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs and Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs on June 13 met with Brittney Griner’s teammates to discuss her detention and efforts to secure her release. A Russian court the following day extended Brittney Griner’s detention through at least July 2.

“We are determined to bring her home along with Paul (Whelan, an American citizen who is serving a 16-year prison sentence in Russia after a court convicted him of spying) and for that matter, any and every American who is being unjustly detained anywhere in the world,” said Blinken on June 15 during a roundtable with this reporter and five other LGBTQ and intersex journalists. ” “It’s something that I am personally focused on, and I want to leave it at that because it is obviously an ongoing issue. But just know that this is a matter of intense focus for us.”

The State Department spokesperson reiterated this point.

“We have no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas,” said the spokesperson. “We remain in regular contact with the families of those held hostage or wrongfully detained; we are grateful for their partnership and feedback; and we continue to work to ensure we are communicating and sharing information in a way useful to our families.”

Cherelle Griner told the AP that she no longer trusts the U.S. government.

“I find it unacceptable and I have zero trust in our government right now,” she said. “If I can’t trust you to catch a Saturday call outside of business hours, how can I trust you to actually be negotiating on my wife’s behalf to come home? Because that’s a much bigger ask than to catch a Saturday call.”

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