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Samson Martirosyan

Yerevan Court Hears Case of Chechen Man Seeking Refugee Status in Armenia

The initial hearing of the case of Salman Mukayev, a Chechen man seeking political asylum and refugee status in Armenia, took place in the country’s Civil Court of Appeals today.

Dozens of Russian & local activists in exile and journalists were present at the packed court room. One activist held a sign saying “extradite = sentence to death”.

Mukayev was arrested in Grozny by Chechen siloviki (people, who work in the state organisations that are authorised to use force against citizens or others) in 2020 on suspicion of homosexuality. He was allegedly beaten, bound with duct tape, strangled with a bag, and electrocuted. Salman was forced to ‘confess' that he had sexual relations with a friend. Russian ‘Novaya Gazeta’ extensively reported Mukayev’s case.

Following a week of torture, Mukayev was released on condition that he cooperate with security agencies. Siloviki threatened that they would open a criminal case against him, forcing him to sign blank papers. Cooperation meant Salman had to get to contact homosexual men on the dating sites and lure them to special apartments monitored by local security forces with hidden cameras. Later, this ‘evidence’ would be used by the security forces as part of the continuous purge of LGBTQ people in Chechnya.

Salman did not cooperate and fled first to Belarus and later to Armenia as soon as he was released from jail. Chechen authorities launched a criminal case against Mukayev on the grounds of illegal possession of ammunition and Mukayev was put on Russia’s wanted list. 

Mukayev was detained in Yerevan’s Zvartnots Airport in 2021 when he tried to leave for France, to where he was granted an entry visa. In Yerevan, he was questioned and released. He applied for asylum afterwards.

Armenia’s Migration Service accepts that Mukaev's rights were violated in Chechnya, however it didn’t grant him refugee status. The service claims that Russia is a big country, hence Salman can return to another republic in Russia and be safe. While no representative of the service was present at the refugee status hearing, the service’s Public Relations Officer Nelly Davtyan earlier told Armenian RFERL that the refusal was justified, and the details are not subject to publication 'based on the interests of the asylum seeker'.

Ani Chatinyan, a human rights lawyer from the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly-Vanadzor, a local human rights NGO, told Hetq it does not matter if Russia is a big country, Mukayev will still face the threat of ill-treatment and possibly, extrajudicial killing.

“Stricter laws targeting certain groups, including LGBTQ people, have been adopted in Russia and the country was excluded from the Council of Europe for its human rights record, so there are no guarantees for Mukayev’s well-being,” Chatinyan told Hetq. 

Although Armenia has received Russia's petition to extradite Mukaev, he will remain in Armenia while the case is heard in the courts. If the court refuses his appeal, Mukayev might be deported to Chechnya. Mukaev's lawyer Hasmik Petrosyan said Armenian authorities might be politically constrained in the case.

During the hearing, Petrosyan emphasized that Mukayev’s case meets the requirements of the UN Convention on Refugees and Armenia’s laws." 

“The Migration Service considers all the documents submitted by us regarding torture, ill-treatment, and life-threatening risks to be confirmed and credible. However, we think their decision to deny him the status (of refugee) is not justified”, she said.

Mukayev’s lawyer said her client did not feel well and could not attend the hearing. In an earlier interview to epress.am Mukayev said he won’t be safe anywhere in Russia since Chechen siloviki can find him no matter where he goes, and Russian authorities will send him to Chechnya, where he will face certain death.

“If they send me back to Russia, they will kill me for sure. They told me that if I tell anyone what happened, they will kill me. This is not the first case. There were people with similar cases and the whole world knows about this,” Mukayev said.

Judge Karen Zarikyan requested additional information from Mukayev’s lawyer for the court to proceed with subsequent hearings. Zarikyan requested more examples of the crackdown of Chechen authorities on LGBTQ people and requested additional proof that Mukayev legally crossed Armenia’s border in 2021.

Nina Karapetyanc, a human rights defender who was also present at the hearing, told Hetq that purges against LGBTQ people in Russia and Chechnya go unreported since most human rights organizations and groups have been labeled  ‘foreign agents’ and had to flee Russia. 

Russian activists said they came to the hearing to support Mukayev and condemn human rights violations in Russia. Most said they fled Russia because of the war in Ukraine and the crackdown on human rights activists. 

Since Armenian courts are overloaded, Mukayev’s lawyer said she hoped the next hearing would take place in a month.

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