Chechnya: ‘Many Colony Guards Perceive Chechens as Their Enemy’

The idea of the project ‘Protection of the Rights of Residents of the Republic of Chechnya and the Republic of Ingushetia who are Serving Sentences in Penal Institutions or Under Investigation in Jail’ came to us as a result of the constant appeals of convicts from Chechnya and Ingushetia serving their punishments in different regions of Russia, far away from the North Caucasus and their family members, in connection to rights violations. Violations have occurred and continue to occur on a national and religious basis.

The entire Russian penal system places human rights as a very low priority and all prisoners are kept in very bad conditions. Human rights defenders are constantly writing about this. The situation for those from the North Caucasus republics is further compounded by the hatred shown towards them by those working in the administration of correctional institutions. This is because many took part in ‘counterterrorism operations’ in the region. The quality of life for those from Chechnya who took part in armed conflict, and who are perceived by many employees of the colony to be their enemy, goes without saying.

The flood of complaints from convicts sent from Chechnya and other North Caucasus republics is increasing day by day. They complain about the use of physical violence, unjustified punishments, obstacles in conducting religious rites and the damage and confiscation of religious literature and objects.

Human rights defenders constantly write about these violations, struggling against this evil. There is periodic reform of the penitentiary system, the head of the Federal Penitentiary Service changes, but the situation doesn’t change. During the work of the project, we came to the conclusion that the only way to alleviate the plight of prisoners is constant monitoring by NGOs. This is most effective in the shape of regular meetings with prisoners.

For the implementation of this monitoring we engage with Public Monitoring Committees (PMC), human rights organizations working in regions where there are colonies, and lawyers when there is the possibility to pay for their services.

But the organization of public monitoring of prisoner’s situations is done with great difficulty. There aren’t PMCs in all regions, and in not all PMCs have members that are really concerned with the situation of prisoners. In several PMCs there are people who previously worked in the penitentiary system and were part of the institutional power structures. It’s not hard to guess how keen these newly public figures are to protect the rights of convicts.

Local bar associations often face difficulties in hiring lawyers: some of them are not ready to protect the rights of prisoners from Chechnya and Ingushetia in order not to spoil relations with the administration of correctional institutions. Therefore it is necessary to resort to the services of reliable lawyers from Moscow. Due to the remoteness of the colonies, this requires significant costs.

But, of course, these organizational challenges are nothing compared to the problems faced by the prisoners themselves.

Convicts from Chechnya and Ingushetia are often at the receiving end of pressure from the security services. In some colonies prisoners are allowed into the hands of the siloviki (the term silovik, literally translated as “person of force” is a Russian word for politicians from the security or military services, often the officers of the former KGB, GRU, FSB, SVR, the Federal Drug Control or other security services who came into power). They beat and torture them to confess to crimes that they were not previously charged with, or to testify against others. Such criminal activity is particularly rampant in colonies of the Vladimir region. Many prisoners from Chechnya and Ingushetia serving sentences in this region go through this grindstone.

Upon arrival at the colony all convicts spend the first week in so-called quarantine. During this period the first meeting between prisoners from the Caucasus and members of the local intelligence service occurs. For them the quarantine sometimes lasts for months.

There are colonies that have a reputation where the prison officers plant drugs on prisoners ending their sentence who are then sent back to court where new terms are added. This practice has developed in some colonies of the Novosibirsk region, for example in Correctional Institution 14. It is absurd to think that a prisoner, on his way to freedom, carries drugs on him. In this situation neither the prosecution nor the investigative committee bother to figure out how the convict was provided with drugs.

In some colonies of the Kemerovo region convicts are given the opportunity to serve their punishment according to the law as required by the criminal code, and not be under constant pressure. For this to happen they must, at their own expense, carry out repairs of the colony and its buildings. To do this they are forced to ask relatives to send them money for the purchase of construction materials.

I would like to mention another problem.

Under article 73 of the criminal code, prisoners are to serve their sentences in correctional facilities located within the region of Russia in which they live or were convicted. Only in case of the absence of an institution in the region can the person serve their sentence in another region. In 2005, this article was supplemented with a part 4, according to which those convicted of certain heinous crimes, including those for which the residents of Chechnya and Ingushetia are most often sentenced (articles 208 and 317 of the criminal code), are to serve their punishment in places as allocated by the Federal Penitentiary Service.

The law does not oblige the Federal Penitentiary Service to send prisoners from Chechnya and Ingushetia to other regions of the country, but all the natives of these republics who receive a sentence under the articles referred to in paragraph 4 of article 73 of the criminal code, serve their sentence in the most remote northern regions of Russia.

This established practice deprives the relatives of many prisoners from the North Caucasus republics the possibility of prison visits and to see family members, which is a violation of article 8 of the European Convention for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, guaranteeing the right to respect for private and family life. In the admissibility decision in the case Syzane and Aulona SELMANI v. Switzerland (complaint No. 70258/01) the European court of human rights pointed out that the holding of a person in prison at such a distance from their family, which complicates or makes it impossible for relatives to visit, may constitute an interference with family life.

Prisoners from Chechnya and Ingushetia are essentially banned from parole. To exclude the possibility of parole these prisoners are constantly being punished – without real reasons. In order to punish the prisoner, any prison officer can simply address a letter to the head of the colony detailing a violation of the prison regime and the prisoner will go straight to either solitary confinement, a single cell or placed on a stricter regime. Flimsy violations are used to change the prisoner’s regime to a stricter one.

This situation can be changed through the introduction of regulations governing correctional institutions and requirements for prison officers to have back up video evidence of their reports of violations. But this would require the good will of the legislator and appropriate technical changes to correctional institutions.

But our penal system is not focused on correction and a return to normal life. The fact is they leave as physically and psychologically broken men.

Serving punishment in Chechnya is fundamentally different from the situation in the rest of Russia.

In the republic there is a large correctional facility in the Chernokozova, Naur region – Correctional Facility 2. It is a colony with an ‘ordinary regime’ but also has a section with a ‘strict regime’ and a colony-settlement (a colony-settlement allows well behaved convicts to serve their sentence with greater freedom). Throughout the project (since 2011) we have not received a single complaint from prisoners serving their time in this colony. We know that complaints were made to the PMC, but they didn’t get in touch with the colony. If all colonies in Russia worked in the same way as this one then the penitentiary system in Russia would be in order, and human rights defenders in this area would have no work.

In Chechnya there are also detention centres in Grozny and Chernokozova. From these places we have also not received any complaints. Members of the PMC periodically visit these institutions and always do so without obstacles.

But if in describing the treatment of detainees and prisoners in Chechnya we only consider the evaluations of Correctional Facility 2, we are heavily sheltered from the truth. In places where people are held pending official detention a completely different picture emerges – not all live to see prison.

By project coordinator in the Chechen Republic Oub Titiev

Ingushetia: “Most Serious Cases Linked With Terrorism Suspects”

The situation regarding the serving of sentences in Ingushetia is not substantially different to the situation in Russia as a whole. In Ingushetia there are no correction centres, only jails, in which there aren’t so many complaints. But there are often complaints about the Centre Against Extremism. There are  also irregularities in police departments where detainees are sent to.

Recently there was a case of a minor, who was detained and interrogated for two days without the presence of parents or psychologist. Moreover, the family did not know of the whereabouts of the teenager for more than a day. Only through eyewitnesses were they able to establish that he was in the Sunzheskey District Police Department and a lawyer was, with hard work, able to obtain permission to meet him.

In such an event only a lawyer can help the detainee. But in the context of Ingushetia it is very difficult to find a lawyer who would take on such a criminal case. The few lawyers who work with criminal cases are overworked, taking a toll on the quality of the investigation. In the case discussed above, we recommended a lawyer to the relatives. However, as so often happens, the relatives did not agreed to appeal the investigator’s wrongdoing.

Not only was a minor interrogated without the presence of parents or guardians: He was under duress and signed a confession for crimes he didn’t commit. However, for relatives the most important thing is to see the detainee set free and they don’t tend to complain about procedural violations. Sadly, in the end it often leads to re-arrest and actual imprisonment.

The most severe cases of detention that include violations of human rights are to do with the suspicion of terrorism and aiding and abetting militants.

All these cases come under article 222 of the criminal code (illegal storage of a weapon). Law enforcement agencies always act in the same, well-established pattern. It all starts with a search, during which ammunition or explosive substances are found. This ensures, as a minimum, article 222 of criminal code is fulfilled. Often the origin of these “findings” is unclear, but it is almost never possible to prove they weren’t there before the search of the house.

Furthermore, during the first interrogation, under pressure and in the presence of an appointed lawyer, the authorities get the necessary evidence. From this point on if the accused does not immediately make enough of an effort, another charge is added to the article. But with the good work of a lawyer it is possible to successfully avoid additional charges and incur the minimum penalty under article 222.

A lot depends on whether the convict or their relatives are ready to complain and challenge the unlawful actions of law enforcement. In one of the latest cases, a resident of Nazran was detained at home. During the search they allegedly found ammunition. They threatened the detainee that, in the case of his transgression, the charge can become much more severe. Under pressure and on the advice of an appointed lawyer, he began to “cooperate” with the investigation and pleaded guilty, sure that nothing could save him.

However, after the introduction to an independent lawyer things have changed greatly. Charges under articles 208 of the criminal code (organization of illegal armed formation or participation in it), 205 of the criminal code (terrorist act), 209 of the criminal code (banditry), were challenged in court. As a result, the guy got a year and a half in an open prison.

It should be noted that in most of the cases when young people come to the attention of law enforcement it is because of their faith, which is expressed by their appearance (beard, specific clothing and so on).

A good example of the interrogation methods used by law enforcement agencies – the shocking case of Magomed Daliev, who died as a result of physical violence and torture. Of course this case was not without the infamous article 222 of the criminal code which law enforcement use to start any criminal case in Ingushetia.

You can find many such examples – regarding both the actions of law enforcement the behaviour of relatives.

Effective work on the rights of prisoners and individuals under investigation is impossible without cooperation with the authorities and NGOs. Every complaint of the relatives of prisoners referred to Memorial and Civic Assistance Committee is duplicated for the Commissioner for Human Rights in the Republic of Ingushetia and the Public Monitoring Committee (PMC). This is because investigating authorities, the Prosecutor’s office and the administrations of prisons and corrective colonies often reluctantly respond to requests from NGOs and do so with a delay. In the case of the Commissioner and the PMC the response is faster and can be a real help for the lawyer.

The hardest part of our work is the protection of prisoners serving sentences in other parts of Russia, especially in the remote regions. It is a rare occurrence when the prisoner and his relatives understand all of the risks, associated with the effects of our intervention. Although the effect of our intervention depends on the colony, they are often positive. When the head of the colony notes the visits of a lawyer from the outside he eases the pressure on the prisoner. There was a time when a lawyer visited a prisoner from Chechnya or Ingushetia and listened to his complaints. This has had a general positive effect on all the other inmates from these republics. The opposite effect does also happen, but much less frequently, and during the work of the project, the lawyers and team members have developed their methods of interaction with different colonies.

Successful cases give rise to another kind of problem: families do not always understand the possibilities and limits of the program. This is understandable:

For each person the specific problem relating to their prisoner is the most important and calls for immediate intervention. However, the majority problems described to us are not desperate enough to require our intervention. It is not possible to work on all cases so the project has to expose cases when the violation of the prisoner’s rights poses a risk to life.

And here another problem arises: the relatives, and yes the prisoners themselves are not always ready to openly speak about the violations they are facing. Very often the conversation boils down to – if this potentially threatening to the convicted person? Relatives want to get some guarantee of their safety after the intervention of a lawyer. For obvious reasons such assurances cannot be given – as a result many promising cases can’t be taken further – but such cases could serve as a precedent.

Today everyone who has, in one way or another, been involved with prisons knows that the penitentiary system of the country leaves much to be desired. Prison conditions do not encourage to the correction of a person, but rather serve to break his psyche.

A special relationship develops in the prison colonies against people from the Caucasus, especially from Chechnya and Ingushetia. The fighting in Chechnya has contributed to this attitude.  Taking first place in the list of prisoners’ complaints is discrimination on a national or religious basis. In particular, these complaints occur in the period of Muslim fasting (Eid).  During the Muslim holy month of Ramadan there is a certain time when the fasting person can eat. If it is forbidden to eat during the daylight hours, the prison warden has no complaints. But when the evening meal is not in sync with the schedule of the correctional institution not to mention the meal before dawn (suhur) and prayer. In addition, during Ramadan, Muslim prisoners read the Quran at a specific time of day. This also falls in the list of violations of the internal regime and often implies a disproportionate punishment.

Every case calls for attention and continuous work, so as not to harm the prisoner himself, because certain issues spring up again and again primarily on national and religious grounds.

Solving the problem of one prisoner is a drop in the ocean in the attempt to change the prison system as a whole, which must be aimed for. The problem of violence and discrimination in prisons is a broad problem, and does not only relate to those from the North Caucasus.

 

Akhmed Barakhoyev, Project Coordinator in the Republic of Ingushetia

The Native of Chechnya, Who Was Deported from Poland, Went Missing in Moscow

Yusuf said that on July 7 in the afternoon, he, Zaurbek and two other friends were in Filion Shopping Centre by the Fili metro station. As their were leaving the Shopping Cente, Zaurbek noticed that they were watched from Lada Priora car. Young men went to a café at Novokuznetskaya where they usually had supper during a fast. When the friends left the café the same car passed by and they recognized one of those who watched them at Fili. Those who watched them left after realizing that they were noticed.

Next day Yusuf and Zaurbek with friends went to the Shopping Centre at Fili again and noticed again that they were followed – this time from a dark-blue Lada Kalina. When young men went down to the metro those who watched them left their car and followed them to the metro station Novokuznetskaya. Leaving the metro, Yusuf and Zaurbek went to the sport ground close by and their friends went to the café.

Two of those who watched them went and sat down on the bench by the sport ground. Zaurbek and Yusuf decided to separate out to check who they would follow. Yusuf left the sport ground for the café. On his way there he noticed the same Lada Kalina. When he passed it by, it moved towards the sport ground. When he reached the café, Yusuf asked one of his friends to fetch Zaurbek but the latter was nowhere to be seen at the ground. His both telephones were switched off. Since that time Zaurbek’s whereabouts were unknown.

On July 10, Zhamaldayev’s friends filed a missing person report with OVD Zamoskvorechye. The same kind of application his relatives filed with law-enforcement authorities in Chechnya.

On July 16, Svetlana Gannushkina, the president of Civic Assistance Committee and the head of Migration and Law network, Memorial Human Rights Centre, approached Vladimir Kolokoltsev, Minister for Internal Affairs with the request to “take immediate action for finding out whereabouts” of Zaurbek, and if he became subject of abduction, considering circumstances of his disappear, – to call the guilty ones to account.

On December 17 2007, in Chechnya Zaurbek was sentenced to a year of imprisonment under p.2, Article 208, RF Penal Code (participation in an illegal armed group). Zaurbek served his time at a colony in Argun, Chechnya, where he took seriously ill and in June 2008 he was released on parole. After being released he has been ill for another year. He used to be detained and questioned at the police regularly.

In April 2010, Zaurbek left for Poland where he applied for refugee status, but received a negative answer: Polish authorities considered his release on parole as a sign that there was no danger for him in Russia.

Migration services were not convinced by the paper from Civic Assistance Committee and Memorial Human Rights Centre which read that “Chechens who served time under Article 208 and other articles related to the armed underground, form a group of high-risk in Chechnya: many of them after being released from prison – sooner or later – again become subjected to abduction, tortures or arbitrary execution”. In March 2013, Zaurbek received a final refusal of asylum and was deported to Russia.

Since his return to the homeland, Zaurbek was staying in Moscow: first being in the care of Civic Assistance Committee and then on his own – working as a guard for Moscow shopping centres. In 2014, he went to Chechnya for a month, got married there and then came back to the capital city.

Shortly before Zaurbek’s abduction his wife in Chechnya was detained and questioned where her husband was. The young woman answered that her husband was working in Moscow.

This case is not the first one known to us when a native of Chechnya who was refused refugee status and deported, became subject of persecution in Russia. Kana Afanasev who was deported from Sweden at the end of 2014, was taken by law-enforcement officials from his house in Chechnya and murdered afterwards.

We Demonstrate with an Example

– Tell us, please, how the program started?

— I could say that I was a pioneer of the program. Since 2000 I have worked for Memorial, managing the Gudermes office. In some time I began to realize that we operated as an “emergency aid”. We responded to what had already happened, tried to help, but could not prevent anything. And then I started talking about the necessity of supporters at the local level, of awareness campaign on human rights for local people, for them to be aware of their rights and who they should approach if necessary. When the Norwegian Helsinki Committee appeared in the region with its international program of Human Rights Education – the first seminar took place in 2009 — they approached us and asked if we wanted to participate. My colleagues proposed me for the position of coordinator since I was the one who kept talking about this kind of activities, long before the separate funding became available; I understood that our human rights work should be diversified. We have never had an educational component before. For some reason Memorial hasn’t joined in at once, yet the Civic Assistance Committee promptly backed up the idea that is why the project started on the basis of the Committee.

What changes have the program undergone within these years?

— The program was based on the program of Norwegian Helsinki Committee; however, since 2009 it has changed a lot. We added new components, discussed important matters. At the beginning of 2014 we started a youth group, a separate one. Before that we introduced training in different human rights organizations – we realized that there were people who wished to deal with these subjects in depth and adopt our experience.

– Why do you held the seminars in Moscow?

— The situation became insecure in the Caucasus. These people can’t feel safe there. The seminar’s program expects people to speak up, to cover some regional problems, and it is a vital necessity to have safe environment for discussing such matters. Even introductory seminar for Chechen young people we didn’t have in Grozny, it takes place outside – Nalchik or Ossetia, the situation is more peaceful there.

– Now there are two Moscow seminars, one – for teachers and one – for young people. Why these groups? How do you select participants?

— First we select young people in regions and conduct several introductory seminars, then we chose the best ones and take them to Moscow. As for teachers we bring them here at once because they are very busy and most of them have no opportunity to take part in two-three events within a year. Why in particular teachers and young people? It is simple: young people – because they should change something in the society, teachers – because they transmit this knowledge, they continue our enlightenment mission. The seminar for teachers focuses on teaching methods and human rights; the youth seminar is more about activism.

– What regional problems does seminar help to solve?

— As for changing the situation globally we certainly can’t do it. Yet, please, understand that we want to get these ideas across people’s mind, to let them see the overall picture. For them to understand the role of authorities, of the civil society, to learn the mechanism of pressure on authorities. Fortunately, both young people and teachers take very well what we tell them; there is a favorable atmosphere created in the region for receiving such information much-needed by people. After our seminars, their participants get together, organize some groups and start some activities. Some people even start their public organizations.

– You mentioned that since 2009 the situation in the region had changed a lot. What happens there now?

— It is true, the situation is changing, and a crackdown started, and we feel it in Moscow too. Before it has been easy for Svetlana Alexeyevna (Svetlana Gannushkina is the president of the Civic Assistance Committee – the author’s note) to meet with the President, we could work independently, could hire staff. Now we are partially in the underground. The situation is different in different regions: in Ingushetia there is less obstacles for our work, in North Ossetia it looks like the Soviet Union has returned, and as for Chechnya… it goes without comment. They are neighboring republics; however the situation is very different there. We have to function tactfully, even restricting these young men’s initiatives. For them to realize that it could be rather dangerous. We don’t even encourage them to take part in training or volunteering in Memorial, we have them focused on other organizations. At the same time we make them realize that at least something could be done, encourage them not to stay indifferent but take action. Not necessarily human right defending but any civil activities. With the example of our organizations we demonstrate that it is possible.

Teachers from the Caucasus share their impressions

Khassan Issayev, Chechen Republic, Shatoyskiy District.

— I came here for the first time; the proposed topics seemed very interesting and I sent along an application form. Now I teach History and Social Studies at school and the information I received here I could use during my lessons. I was fascinated by role playing technique we were taught with – I could teach my students the same way.

Definitely, the knowledge of project work will be useful. Many problems that we have in our village could be solved if funding is found. For example, there is no place for children to play in the small mountain village – neither playgrounds, no football field.

During the seminar were described various cases of violation of laws by officials or authorities. Officially, we live in democracy, the separation of powers does exist, one power should control the other one – unfortunately, it doesn’t work in practice, there are many problems in judicial system, in particular, where pure arbitrariness reigns. Decisions are made based not on legislation but some subjective impulse.
I talk to students about it, seniors, – they already can understand it. Here I have learned a lot and will be able to share it.
Natalya Kisseleva, North Ossetia, Vladikavkaz.
Now I run an agency for field events for children, in the past I used to work as a counselor for Doveriye Centre, but now I engage in commercial activities.

I was excited about being accepted for this program – I am a teacher by profession but now I do not work as a teacher and thought that only staff members of budget organizations were admissible. However, I was very much interested and carefully filled in a questionnaire – and I was invited. It came as a great surprise!

I want to pass my sincere thanks to those teaching during the seminar, especially, Olga and Vsevolod. They are teachers and experts, representatives of our social sphere. They spoke about the very current issues of our work and life that we were focusing on – shut-down of schools; film about Zelim also spoke to our very depth. I liked a tour to Memorial Human Rights Centre as well as tours around Moscow with a guide.

What am I going to do when at home? Probably, I will put into practice what I learned here. For many years we have been working together with kindergartens and schools, also I am a student of College for Culture. It is important to address those problems we can solve and try to do it. They do exist – for instance, in Doveriye Centre we used to work with refugees from Beslan with difficulties in adaptation due to the language barrier; young mothers are very vulnerable as well, we need to help them when possible.
Malika Shakhtyrova, Ingushetia, Nazran
— I work at school as a teacher of English. I attend such a seminar for the first time. I was fascinated by everyone who worked with us.

I found interactive technologies very useful – for work with children at school – they make training process much more interesting and diverting.

Today’s class on project management seems very practical to me. Our region suffers from many problems and there are problems we could solve if we act wisely.

What was told to us about human rights I have known before, in general. But it was good to refresh my memory.

Letter from Human Rights Defender Svetlana Gannushkina to President Medvedev

To the President of the Russian Federation

Mr. D. A. Medvedev

Dear Dmitry Anatolevich!

Acts of terrorism have become an almost daily occurrence in our lives. They have become a means by which opposition conducts a dialogue with local structures of government, a means to sort out relations in business, a means of reprisals against human rights defenders and journalists, and a means to wreak revenge on law enforcement officers – those endowed with authority and legally entitled to carry arms – for extrajudicial killings, acts which can also be counted as crimes of a terrorist nature.

You well know what losses civil society has borne over this past year. Among those who died were many of our comrades and those closest to us. Therefore each of us understands how important it is to fight terrorism in all its forms. Ensuring the security of the public is one of the most important functions of the State, in the execution of which each of us is personally interested.

However, in combating terrorism, even with the toughest methods, representatives of the State must not themselves become like terrorists. They must not act on the basis of a principle of collective responsibility. Their actions must not be similar to revenge.

Leaving the choice of tactics to professionals, the highest persons in government formulate the principles of the strategy to be adopted in combating such a monstrous phenomenon as terrorism.

With deep regret I am forced to state that your statements, laying down strategic direction in this area, give me much cause for concern.

On 27 June 2009, speaking at a session of the Security Council, you demanded that the military and law enforcement agencies “not stand on ceremony with bandits” and asked them to report to you how many fighters in the North Caucasus had been destroyed in the recent period.

At that time, it seemed to us that these words were said in a moment of anger following the attempt to assassinate the President of Ingushetia, Yunusbek Evkurov, with whose name were linked the hopes of the people of Ingushetia, squeezed between two sources of violence, between the authorities and the underground, to escape from the dead-end in which they found themselves.

The dramatic nature of the moment was not conducive to entering into a discussion with you about the methods of fighting terrorism.

It could have been expected that subsequently you would issue more precise and clear directions, and guides to action, that would lie solely within the field of law.

But now in the New Year, on 8 January 2010, at a meeting with the director of the FSB, Aleksandr Bortnikov, you again issued the same instructions: “So far as bandits are concerned, our policy remains the same. They must simply be destroyed, this must be done toughly and it must be done systematically, in other words regularly, because, unfortunately, the bandit underground still exists. It is necessary to act methodically “over the whole field”, if somewhere or other there appears a trace, then it’s necessary to seek them out and destroy them.”

In recent years, many have learnt how to destroy people ‘regularly, toughly, systematically and methodically.’ However, it is no secret for anyone that keeping accounts while conducting this kind of activity is very simply done, and our valiant law enforcement agencies have huge experience in this. They are used not to stand on ceremony, not only with bandits and with respectable citizens, but with the law itself.

If bodies are needed for statistics – there will be bodies, that won’t stop them. The only question that remains open is whether the size of the armed underground is reduced as a result.

Isn’t it possible that new victims of falsification of this kind will encourage the recruitment of new participants into the resistance?

Members of the public now turn less and less frequently for help to human rights defenders and to law enforcement agencies.

Neither the former nor the latter can help them, and therefore people lose faith in using the law to solve their problems.

This is the consequence of the policy of destroying people without due process.

Dear Dmitry Anatolevich!

Below I cite the history of the last months in the life of one person from the Chechen Republic whom we were not able to help.

From the end of July 2009, our organization tried more than once to secure a serious investigation into the circumstances of the detention, and in essence abduction, of Alikhan Sultanovich Markuev (born 1988), an inhabitant of the town of Argun in the Chechen Republic. In July 2007 Alikhan Markuev became a participant in illegal armed groups, which a year later he left, voluntarily giving himself up at Argun police station. In 2008 he was officially amnestied. After this, for a year he lived openly at home with his family, working on redecorating his house.

Despite this, on 5 November 2008 a criminal case was opened against Markuev and he was charged with offences under Article 222 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (acquisition and storage of arms) and Article 317 (making an attempt on the life of a law enforcement officer).

Moreover, Markuev was put on wanted list, although he had not hidden from the investigating officers and had given the investigator from the Investigative Committee of the Chechen Republic who was in charge of the case, Yakub Nikaev, his telephone number.

A lawyer working for Memorial was invited to represent Alikhan Markuev.

On 28 July 2009, Alikhan Markuev was unexpectedly taken away from his home by officers from Argun police department.

When the lawyer phoned investigator Nikaev, he was told that the case in relation to Alikhan had been closed and that he, Nikaev, knew nothing about the detention.

After this communication, relatives turned to the Argun police department. However, the head of the police department and the head of the Argun town administration advised them to stop trying to find out about the fate of A. Markuev, or else force would be used against them.

Next the relatives went to the office of the Human Rights Ombudsman for the Chechen Republic where they were met by a staff member named Zelimkhan who refused to accept a statement from them and advised them to go to the Prosecutor’s Office.

The same day the lawyer went to the police department for an explanation. He was met by an officer who introduced himself as head of criminal investigations, and told him word for word the following: “You are defending ‘the devil’ and, if you don’t want any more problems, keep away from the police department, we don’t have any Markuev here’.

The next day, based on information from Chechen colleagues, I sent a formal inquiry by fax and post to the Deputy Minister of Police of the Chechen Republic, A. B. Yanishevsky, and Prosecutor of the Chechen Republic, M. M. Savchin, with a request to take steps to discover the whereabouts of Alikhan Sultanovich Markuev, and to assist his lawyer in meeting him.

In addition to this, I phoned the Chechen Republic and spoke about what had happened with both officials to whom I had sent the formal inquiries. I was promised that steps would be taken so that no unlawful acts would take place in relation to Alikhan Markuev.

On 2 August 2009, during the night, the relatives of Alikhan Markuev were summoned to Argun police department.

The relatives immediately went there in their own car. The head of the criminal investigation department handed Alikhan, who had been detained on 28 July 2009, over to them, and the relatives signed an official document to this effect.

Alikhan, together with his relatives, got into the car and set off for home. They had only travelled half the journey when cars, containing armed people in masquerade masks, blocked the road in front of them.

The armed men jumped out of their cars and pushed Alikhan into one of them, taking the keys to their car from his relatives, and drove off.

Unable to follow the abductors, the relatives could not follow where Alikhan had been taken.

However, later they succeeded in finding a witness who had seen the abductors’ car drive into the forecourt of Argun police station.

We again immediately sent formal inquiries to the law enforcement agencies of the Chechen Republic. The correspondence continued into October 2009, but with no positive results.

The answers we received told us about the opening of a criminal case into the abduction of a person, about the steps being taken to investigate, and about their results, which, as usual, told us that the information we had communicated had not been confirmed.

Alikhan Markuev disappeared without trace. At the same time his relatives and lawyer continued to receive threats and advice not to pursue the question of his fate any longer.

On 19 October 2009 an unknown person phoned us at the offices of Civic Assistance in Moscow and said that, according to information he had, Alikhan Markuev and three other people from Chechnya, who had disappeared, were being held by police in Gudermes at a place of detention.

The caller gave the name of one of the others detained, fifteen-year-old Rasukhan Rizvanovich Elpiev.

The caller stated that it was being planned to dress them in camouflage, kill them and give out that they had been members of illegal armed groups destroyed during a special operation.

In the caller’s words, this would already have been done, had not so much attention been attracted to the case of Alikhan Markuev.

In our view, this information demanded the taking of immediate steps by law enforcement agencies.

We immediately sent the information about this phone call by fax to the Prosecutor’s Office and to the Police Ministry of the Chechen Republic. An answer from the Prosecutor’s Office came improbably swiftly. It was dated 22 October. This means that the official investigation into the information had taken no more than two days. It goes without saying, ‘the information was not confirmed.’

Unfortunately, events continued to develop according to the scenario set out by our unknown informant.

On 27 November 2009, on the outskirts of the village of Serzhen-Yurt, the corpse of a man with gunshot wounds was found. Next to the body lay an automatic weapon.

Relatives of Alikhan Markuev were invited to identify the body. They were told that Alikhan had lost his life in the course of a ‘special operation’ – at the same time, the law enforcement officers already knew whose corpse this was.

Relatives identified the body as that of Alikhan and his body was returned to the family for burial. The funeral took place in the village of Avtury. The funeral ceremony was conducted in a hurry – evidently threats to the relatives of Alikhan had not stopped even after his murder.

The death of Alikhan Sultanovich Markuev is not an exceptional event in the North Caucasus, but a commonplace one.

We know of a whole series of similar abductions, where relatives refused to report cases to the law enforcement agencies and make public what had happened. In this they were guided by fear for the other members of their family, and for their own lives.

And how many events of this kind remain outside our field of vision?

Dear Dmitry Anatolevich!

It seems to me that in the case of Alikhan Sultanovich Markuev, it is too early to put a full-stop. It must be thoroughly investigated; the killers found and brought to justice.

In this I ask for your good offices. All the circumstances of this case leave no doubt that Alikhan Markuev was abducted and killed by officers of law enforcement agencies.

Moreover, his murder was used to claim one more victory over the armed underground.

A crime of this nature, committed by representatives of State authority, ranks with the most dangerous acts of terrorism, because it destroys society, undermining trust in the law.

A great part of the responsibility for the fact that murders of this kind have become an everyday occurrence lies with the highest leadership of the country.

It is not the first time that the first person in the State has given the agencies of law enforcement a clear signal that they need not worry about observance of the law, and that they must draw up their reports on the basis of the number of those destroyed, without troubling themselves with explanations of how, without due process, it is possible to distinguish between the innocent and the guilty.

We need to understand clearly that there will be no stability, either in the North Caucasus or throughout Russia, until the agencies of law enforcement stop daily disregarding the law, and until members of the public stop seeing in them a permanent source of danger.

Yours sincerely,

Chair, Civic Assistance,
Member of the Board, Memorial,
Member of the Presidential Council for the Development of the Institutions of Civil Society and Human Rights

Svetlana Alekseevna Gannushkina