Chechnya’s president Ramzan Kadyrov hates LGBT people.
Kadyrov made that very clear when he vowed to eliminate all gay men in Chechnya and then called gay people ‘devils’ and urged them all to move to Canada.
The Chechen dictator has continually denied even the existence of LGBT people in the Russian republic.
This is despite worldwide condemnation – including from the United Nations, HRC and Council of Europe – of the concentration-like camps across Chechnya.
Kadyrov has been in power since 2007 and tends to rule the country in accordance with traditional Islamic social codes, even if these contravene Russian law.
Throughout his leadership, the Council of Europe has condemned the use of torture in Chechnya, renewing this condemnation this year.
Ramzan Kadyrov’s huge Instagram following
Despite all of his numerous human rights abuses, he’s amassed a collection of seemingly random celebrity connections. He’s also documented most of the experiences on his now-deleted Instagram account.
Kadyrov had a huge presence on Instagram, with over three million followers.
But on 20 December 2017, the United States imposed sanctions and blacklisted Kadyrov, accusing him of personal involvement in repression, torture and murder of US officials.
He took to Instagram to mock the sanctions: ‘A sleepless night is waiting for me.’
Just three days later, Kadyrov awoke to find his Instagram and Facebook account suspended.
He posted on an alternate social media account via Telegram: ‘Instagram’s move, which still wants to pretend it is independent from officials of Washington, is weird.’
His account has been suspended ever since, except for a couple of hours in November last year when Instagram mistakenly reinstated the verified account, then took it down again hours later.
As a result, many of the photos of his celebrity connections are lost. But luckily, the internet never forgets, so here’s the full list.
Note: We know at least one of the celebrities has denounced Kadyrov subsequently. Others may no longer be on friendly terms with him. We also don’t know if they have heard what is happening to LGBT people in Chechnya.
1. Mike Tyson
In 2017, Ramzan Kadyrov posted a video to Instagram of himself with American former professional boxer Mike Tyson.
In the now-deleted video, the two men hug, mock spar with one another, sit down and talk. Then Tyson appears to sign a shirt Kadyrov is wearing.
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But it’s not the first time the pair have met. Tyson made a well-documented trip to Chechnya in 2005.
It’s not known for certain where the second meeting took place, although both men are believed to have been in United Arab Emirates at the same time that year.
2. Hilary Swank
In 2011, Academy Award-winning actress Hilary Swank attended Kadyrov’s 35th birthday celebrations.
Human rights groups condemned her attendance at the event, forcing her to release an official apology.
She explained in her statement that she was in Chechnya to attend the opening of a new residential and commercial complex in Grozny City. While she was there, organizers asked her if she would wish Kadyrov a happy birthday and, not wanting to be rude, obliged.
‘I deeply regret attending this event,’ she said in her apology. ‘Which has thrown into question my long and deeply-held commitment to the protection of human rights.
‘I would never intentionally do anything that raised doubts about such commitment,’ she said.
3. Nusret Gökçe (aka ‘Salt Bae’)
Turkish butcher Nusret Gökçe – affectionately known as Salt Bae – became a viral internet meme in January 2017, with a video of him cutting a steak and sprinkling it with salt.
The internet sensation personally cooked for Ramzan Kadyrov in November last year.
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Kadyrov posted a video of the dining experience to his Instagram account. In the video, Gökçe slices the meat, while Kadyrov films the exchange.
He then dangles a piece of meat over the Chechen leader’s mouth and he eats it.
4. Vanessa Mae
Violinist Vanessa Mae attended the same birthday celebrations as Hilary Swank in 2011.
For the reported sum of $500,000 (€442,000) she took to the stage and performed excerpts from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.
Human Rights Foundation’s Thor Halvorssen criticized the Singapore-born musician’s involvement in the event.
He said: ‘[Vanessa Mae] should be particularly sensitive to human rights concerns.’
5. Jean-Claude Van Damme
Belgian martial arts star Jean Claude Van Damme also attended the highly-publicized 2011 birthday party for Ramzan Kadyrov.
He stood on stage and said: ‘I love you, Mr Kadyrov!’
But unlike Hilary Swank, he had no regrets about attending the event.
In fact, Van Damme made another trip to the region to watch a play and have dinner with Kadyrov.
He said he was very impressed with the country’s architecture.
6. Gérard Depardieu
French actor Gérard Depardieu is perhaps Ramzan Kadyrov’s closest Western friend.
In fact, the 70-year-old thespian actually gave up his French passport after a dispute over his taxes with the French Prime Minister. Putin then ended up giving Depardieu Russian citizenship.
Kadyrov soon bonded with the famous French actor, gifting him a five-bedroom apartment in Grozny.
The Chechen leader posted a photo of himself with Depardieu to his Instagram account in 2013.
That infamous 2011 birthday party gets one last special mention, with the inclusion of British singer Seal as a performer on the night.
Seal was supposed to play a half an hour set, but only ended up performing two songs due to time restraints. He defended his actions to play the gig.
‘By going there, I played MUSIC for the Chechenyan (sic) people,’ he wrote on Twitter before his performance in 2011. ‘I’m a MUSICIAN and would appreciate if you leave me out of your politics.’
After his performance, he commented: ‘It was an interesting show indeed.’
8. Elizabeth Hurley
In 2013, Kadyrov posted a photo to Instagram of himself and British actress Elizabeth (Liz) Hurley.
The photo depicts Kadyrov smiling next to Hurley, who is holding a white kitten. But some media outlets claim the photo may be doctored.
Nevertheless, reports confirm Hurley was in Chechnya in 2013 to film thriller movie Viktor, alongside French actor Gérard Depardieu.
During that time, she didn’t comment on her encounter with Ramzan Kadyrov.
Although she said in a press conference for the film: ‘We’ve made quite an invasion but we intend to make a great movie.’
9. Steven Seagal
In 2014, American actor Steven Seagal appeared on Kadyrov’s Instagram feed. Kadyrov invited him to Chechnya as a guest of honor.
‘Nobility. Willpower. Honor,’ Kadyrov wrote in the caption. ‘Qualities, characteristic of Chechens. So we can say he is almost a Chechen!’
In a video from a local Chechen news report, Seagal commented on the dance reception he received on his arrival to meet Kadyrov.
‘I love the dancing,’ he told a translator, who translated to Kadyrov. ‘I think this is my favorite dancing in the world.’
The pair then shake hands.
So what does this all mean?
It’s possible some celebrities may not have been aware of Kadyrov’s record of human rights abuses when agreeing to perform with him or be pictured alongside him.
Some may have been simply wowed by money.
Others may have felt the pressure to meet him while guests in his country, so as not to provoke approbation from authorities.
For example, last year, the Egyptian national soccer squad had its training camp in Chechnya during Russia’s World Cup. Kadyrov asked to meet star player Mohamed Salah.
Sources close to the footballer later claimed he was angry to have been asked to meet the leader and felt like he’d been used like a political pawn at a time when all he wanted to do was play soccer in the World Cup.
However, with recent reports of the anti-gay purge in Chechnya showing no sign of curtailing, we should be in no doubt of the prestige such photo opportunities bestow upon Kadyrov – or the reputation damage celebrities risk through their association with him.