Letter from Human Rights Defender Svetlana Gannushkina to President Medvedev

Svetlana Gannushkina, Civic Assistance, Memorial Human Rights Centre: “A crime of this kind, committed by representatives of State authority, ranks with the most dangerous acts of terrorism, because it destroys society, undermining trust in the law” .

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