In many ways it was very much like any other missing cat appeal you might find pasted up by a distraught owner seeking their neighbours’ help to find a beloved pet.
“Our cat has vanished,” it began. “Ten days ago, it disappeared. We all thought that it would turn up soon, since it is very much attached to the children, it loves to play with them… But now we are seriously worried. Perhaps it is staying with somebody in the neighbourhood…Therefore we would be grateful for the information if anybody knows anything. Thanks in advance.”
However, in this instance the person wanting to be reunited with his cat was the authoritarian leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov – a man whom human rights organisations have in the past associated with a different kind of unexplained disappearance.
Kadyrov made the appeal to the 1.8 million followers of his Instagram accountwith a photo of him affectionately cradling the unnamed cat. His post received more than 30,000 likes but has yet to achieve the desired effect of locating the missing moggie.
However, it got an unexpected spin, when British comedian John Oliver took a rip at Kadyrov on his US TV show Last Week Tonight.
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Along with ridiculing the photos Kadyrov posts on his Instagram and his affection for t-shirts with the image of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Oliver recalled a an incident when Kadyrov reportedly misplaced his phone during a wedding in Chechnya.
According to the presenter, hundreds of guests who attended the wedding ceremony were questioned in connection with the incident. And this is exactly why he urged the viewers to help Kadyrov find his cat as quickly as possible – so as not to irritate a man with a record of alleged human rights abuses.
Oliver mockingly urged viewers to share any information using #FindKadyrovsCat. The hashtag has been used more than 8000 times. Though few of the tweets are likely to lead to a happy reunion any time soon.
Some used the hashtag to post memes about kittens, Kadyrov and Putin (sometimes in bizarre combinations), others just posed with their beloved pets.
Somebody even seemed to have started a Twitter account for the missing cat.
While somebody else claimed the cat was not that willing to come back after all.
All this attention did not go unnoticed by Kadyrov. He posted a response, in which Oliver was pictured wearing a Putin t-shirt with the caption: “I’m tired of jokes. I want to care for cats in Chechnya. By the way Putin is our leader.”
By the standards of Kadyrov’s past record the comedian may have got off lightly. Earlier this year the Chechen leader posted a video of Putin prominent critic Mikhail Kasyanov in what looked like sniper rifle sights.
And a human rights group from the Czech Republic has used the opportunity afforded by the missing cat to highlight some less light-hearted issues. The Eastern European wing of People in Need used the hashtag to post a whole series of tweets about allegations about human rights problems in Chechnya, like thisinterview with a Chechen man, whose house was reportedly burned down by Kadyrov masked attackers after he complained to Putin about corrupt local officials, and to an article about thousands of persons who are still missing in Chechnya after two wars with Moscow.
Kadyrov has also been linked in the past to the murder of Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov, a claim he rejected on his Instagram account as “nothing but drivel”.