Zelim Bakaev (sometimes translitterated as Bakayev) was born to in Grozny, the capital of the Chechen Republic. Passionate of music, he began singing at a young age in Chechnya, and became popular in Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan and eventually in Russia. In 2013, he took part in the annual Vainakh Awards for upcoming artists. His big break came with singles like "Nana". In 2017, he applied for casting in New Star Factory on the Russian television chaim Muz-TV.
On 6 August 2017, Zelim travelled to Grozny to attend his sister's wedding. He was due back in Moscow few days later as he was scheduled to take part in a Russian musical contest on August 10. On August 8, he was reportedly arrested by Special Rapid Deployment (SOBR) security forces, this according to two eyewitnesses as they recounted to Dozhd TV.
Zelim's cellular phone was also disactivated the same day. Speculations ran that his arrest was for suspicion of being gay. Chechnyan authorities had declared an anti-LGBT campaign with many reports of persecution of homosexuals in the country. Zelim had been previously forbidden from any public appearance in Chechnya. Zelim's mother Malika and his aunt received a message that Zelim had "left" Chechnya.
On August 18, his mother Malika filed a complaint for her son's disappearance and on August 22 applied to the Human Rights Council demanding clarifications from them and the Chechen Interior ministry. The Chechen minister of Foreign Affairs and Information denied any involvement by the Chechen authorities in the affair. The Chechen police claimed that Zelim Bakaev had purchased a ticket for a train from Nalchik to Moscow with the departure on August 11.
On September 15, the American human rights organization Human Rights First urged the US State Department to intervene with the Russian authorities about Zelim Bakaev. On 16 September 2017, the singer's mother publicly appealed to Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov asking about her son, but on September 18, the Chechen Ministry of Internal Affairs refused to open a criminal investigation into the disappearance of Zelim.
On 24 September 2017, a suspicious video appeared allegedly taken in Germany with a look-alike claiming to be Zelim saying he was now in Germany. But many discrepancies were apparent including forced nature of the video, Russian furniture and equipment appearing in the footage including alcoholic brands not marketed in Germany.
A high-ranking diplomat from the EU mission in Russia also confirmed that Zelim did not cross the border of any of the Schengen countries in August 2017 or later. In October 2017, the international press outlets, and primarily the LGBT media alleged the singer had died as a result of torture at the hands of the Chechen police as part of the Chechen government's anti-gay purge.