Pro-military bloggers clash with Chechen authorities over abuse case

The Bell

A young woman who fled her relatives in Chechnya after facing abuse has garnered unexpected support from Russian Z-bloggers. Facing the possibility of being forcibly sent back to the conservative Muslim region and likely harsh repercussions, pro-military voices came out in her support, criticizing the Caucasus republic as “medieval.” It is the latest human rights case from the region to hit national headlines in Russia.

  • Liya Zaurbekova, a 19-year-old Chechen native fled the ultra-conservative region on May 13, fearing for her life amid physical and psychological abuse from her family. Just three days after she arrived in Moscow, she saw her father prowling the courtyard outside her new home. She called the police and was taken to the local precinct. There, Zaurbekova learned that her family had reported her as a missing minor (although at 19, she would already be regarded as an adult under Russian law) and her relatives soon surrounded the police station. Officers outside seized a pistol from one of them. 
  • The Chechen authorities quickly got involved. Adam Delimkhanov, a Chechen deputy in the lower chamber of parliament, took personal responsibility for the issue and promised that the girl would be forcibly returned to her family. He also said that somebody had deliberately misled her, and whoever was responsible would “suffer a well-deserved punishment to the full extent of the law.”
  • At first, the Moscow police did not take Zaurbekova seriously and were reluctant to help. According to human rights activists, they were initially dismissive, saying: “you Chechens have these traditions.” But once her lawyers arrived and the story gained national media coverage, their attitude changed and they helped distract her relatives so she could get out of the police station and leave the country. Chechen authorities were not happy about that. The human rights ombudsman in the republic called Zaurbekova’s supporters “swindlers” and “kidnappers.” 
  • Popular pro-war Z-bloggers unexpectedly took the girl’s side. In posts they described the Chechens demanding her return as “Nazi cavemen” and described the situation as a “medieval game.” They also criticized the sluggish police response in Moscow. 
  • Women’s rights in Chechnya periodically attract wider media attention when high-profile or particularly egregious cases emerge. In the fall of 2022, 26-year-old Seda Suleimanova fled her family in Chechnya. She said she was being abused and was being forced into marriage. She was arrested in St. Petersburg in summer 2023 after her mother wrote a statement claiming Seda had stolen jewelry from her. Suleimanova denied all the accusations. She was taken to the regional capital Grozny and has not been seen since. Her friends and human rights activists believe she was killed. The practice of “honor killings” persists in Chechnya, with the murders usually hushed up and rarely making it to court. The authorities did not open an investigation into Suleimanova’s disappearance until April 2024.

Why the world should care:

From a legal point of view, Chechnya is a unique part of Russia where nationwide rules do not apply in practice. It’s possible that for the first time in a long time, parts of Russian “patriotic” society were confronted with this widely-known fact and for some reason took exception to this case. There is no chance their dissent will have any impact or consequences. But it may signal that even pro-military voices do not support every government decision on social issues. In particular, not everyone is happy to accept a soft approach towards Chechnya in exchange for stability in a once violent and separatist region.


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