Elena Milashina: In Chechnya, Only the Dead Have Nothing to Fear

milashina
Elena Milashina

It Was an Execution: Dozens of People Were Shot in Grozny on the Night of Janunary 25
Elena Milashina
Novaya Gazeta
July 9, 2017

Over the years, Novaya Gazeta has regularly published information about massacres and reprisals in Chechnya. The motives for persecuting the people who live in the repubic have been quite varied. In early April, Novaya Gazeta published evidence testifying to the widespread persecution, torture, and killings of gay Chechens. Due to enormous international pressure, Russia’s law enforcement agencies for first time conducted, much against their will, a pre-investigation of evidence of extrajudiciary killings in Chechnya. This was in itself an incredible achievement.

On April 20, we handed over to police investigators information about two men who, we had concluded, had been killed during the anti-gay campaign in Chechnya. Our journalistic investigation, in fact, began with attempting to clarify what had happened to these two men.

We sent all information about the murdered men to investigators for their review as soon as we received it. We also gave the Russian Investigative Committee the anonymous testimony of the surviving victims, who had been kept in secret prisons and gone through terrible torture. This testimony aided investigators in independently and successfully establishing the identities of the victims, according to our information.

Igor Sobol, deputy head of the major case squad in the Central Investigations Department at the Russian Investigative Committee’s North Caucasus Federal District office, who conducted the pre-investigation, had planned to meet with the victims to try and convince them to make statements. However, Sobol had worked on the pre-investigation for a mere two weeks when he was suddenly appointed to a new post. The pre-investigation was assigned to another investigator. After this reshuffle, the official investigation ceased to be robust and adopted a predictable stance.  Since the victims had not filed complaints themselves, no crime had taken place.

Moskalkova’s Stance
We guessed this would be the outcome. It is the silence of living victims, scared to death by the unlimited capacities of Chechnya’s security forces, that is the main argument used by police investigators in response to all complaints about human right violations in Chechnya.

Therefore, in addition to the names of the slain gays, we gave investigators a list of twenty some Chechens, arrested starting late December 2016 and, according to our information, murdered in January of this year. These people were arrested during several special raids conducted in Chechnya after December 17, 2016. These people were not formally charged with any crimes. As in the case of the gays, a decision was most likely made to exterminate these people, and the order was carried out.


FYI

On December 17, 2016, a group of young men assaulted and murdered a policeman’s acquaintance. The assailants stole the policeman’s car. During the chase, they ran over a traffic police officer in this car. All the assailants were destroyed [sic], including three detainees.

According to the Memorial Rights Center, they were shot in a hospital in Grozny.

The incident triggered massive arrests throughout Chechnya, and two preventive, proactive counter-terrorist operations were conducted.


All the information about what we have assumed were murdered Chechens was passed on not only to police investigators but also to high-ranking officials, including Tatyana Moskalkova, Russia’s federal human rights ombudsman.

In our letters to these officials, we made a special point of distinguishing between the people we assumed had been killed on suspicion of homosexuality, and the people killed for another reason. (Most likely, they were killed on suspicion of extremism, although we cannot corroborate this: no formal charges were filed, and the Chechen police did not have sufficient information to file charges.)

“No one can be subjected to violence, humiliation and, especially, the loss of life under any circumstances,”  Moskalkova announced publicly before sending our petition to the Russian Investigative Committee for review.

On June 6, the preliminary outcome of the review, which the Russian Investigative Committee had been conducting for over two months, was made public. Ombudsman Moskalkova reported on the Investigative Committee’s reaction to her request.

“The reply I received says they have not ascertained evidence confirming violent actions, because they had no specific information on these citizens.”

Moskalkova had every reason to put the matter to rest, as many high-ranking officials had done before her. But she adopted a principled stance under the circumstances.

“Since my request and the letter from Novaya Gazeta I sent contain the names of the people who have, allegedly, perished, the review cannot be deemed completed at this point, and I ask you to clarify what happened to the people whose names are listed in the letter,” wrote Moskalkova.

In an interview with TASS News Agency, Moskalkova likewise remarked that the list given to her by Novaya Gazeta “contains only surnames and names, and nothing else.” She expressed her hope that the “investigative authorities would be able to talk with the article’s author and obtain additional information about years of birth, places of burial, relatives, and former places of residence.”

The fact is that, during our communications with the investigator conducting the review, we passed on more complete information that would make it possible to identify people from the list and establish what had happened to them. At the time, we had information about the places where these people had resided and their dates of birth.

One January Night
After sending the list to the official investigators, we did not halt our own investigation. We kept on trying to explain what had happened to these people.

Since we no longer have any confidence that the new investigator conducting the review will want to talk with our reporters, we have decided to publish everything we know about the circumstances of how these people disappeared.

Large-scale arrests of people kicked off in Chechnya after December 17 of last year. In early January, special raids were carried out the Grozny, Kurchaloy, and Shali districts of Chechnya, during which many people were arrested. The arrestees, however, were not formally registered or charged with crimes. Instead, they were put in the cellars and outbuilding of police departments.  The arrests continued until late January.  According to what we have learned, around two hundred people were arrested.

Novaya Gazeta carefully monitored these events and has written on several occasions about the plight of the arrestees. Thus, on January 12, we published the names of those arrested after a special raid in the Kurchaloy District. Some of the people on this list were “legalized” only on February 20. This means they were formally arrested only a month and a half after they had in fact been detained. These people were formally charged with illegal arms trafficking (Article 222 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code), and a handful were also charged with violating Article 208 (involvement in an illegal armed formation).

We believe that, during a month and a half of illegal detention, these people were coerced into confessing their guilt, which is often the only evidence of guilt in Chechnya. This can be easily seen if we examine the criminal cases currently under investigation by the Chechen Investigative Committee. The names of twenty-two men, detained on January 9 and 10, 2017, and published on Novaya Gazeta‘s website on January 12, is evidence of the illegal one-and-a-half-month detentions, which, in fact, from the legal point of view, render null and void all thhe so-called confessions of guilt.

When comparing this information, we discovered that six people, detained on January 9 and 10, are on the list of those presumably murdered, which we passed on to the Russian Investigative Committee.

The Marked List
During our journalistic investigation, we were able to obtain a list of the people detained in January from a source in the Chechen Interior Ministry. We were also able to match the detainees with the following towns and villages in Chechnya.

Shali: 28 people
Kurchaloy: 9 people
Tsotsi-Yurt: 11 people
Mayrtup: 6 people
Germenchuk: 3 people
Komsomolskoye:  1 person
Avtury: 2 people
Old Sunzha: 4 people
Serzhen-Yurt: 2 people
Belgatoy: 1 person

Comparing this document with the list of allegedly murdered people that Novaya Gazeta sent to the Russian Investigative Committee, we found out what had happend to another 21 people who had been arrested and subsequently killed, according to our information. The great number of arrests took place in Shali, and we have ascertained the addresses of the people on our list from Shali. But all our attempts to find out anything about the plight of these people have been met with incredible fear on the part of our sources. One of them, an employee in Shali city hall, panickedly refused to look over the names of the Shali residents we had ascertained.

“Everyone who was detained in Shali in Janury is gone. Don’t look for them,” he said.

Currently, we know about 27 people who were presumably killed (see the list at the end of this article), although we have reason to believe that 56 Chechens may have been killed. These people were detained at different times. (We have managed to ascertain the dates when thirty of the detainees were arrested: January 9, January 10, January 21, and January 24.) However, the date and time of death, according to our information, is the same for all these people: the night of January 25.

That night, all the detainees were held at the base of the Police Patrol Service’s Hero of Russia Akhmat-Hadji Kadyrov Regiment, headed by police colonel Aslan Iraskhanov. The relative of one victim, an influential Chechen official who has managed to uncover the circumstances of the detainees’ disappearance, has testified that, on the night in question, the following people were located at the Kadyrov Regiment’s base: Apti Alaudinov, First Deputy Interior Minister of the Chechen Republic; Abuzeyd Vismuradov aka The Patriot, commander of the Terek Rapid Deployment Task Force and head of Ramzan Kadyrov’s personal security detail; Colonel Iraskhanov of the Kadyrov Regiment; and the police chiefs of the districts where the detainees were registered.

According to the information we have, the detainees were shot that night. Their bodies were transported to various cemeteries, including Christian cemeteries, and buried in hastily dug graves. (Novaya Gazeta knows the locations of some burial sites).

Careful study of the lists of detainees has led us to conclude that the decision to carry out the extrajudicial executions was taken centrally [sic] and, oddly enough, spontaneously. However, this is how key decisions are made in today’s Chechnya.

This follows, at least, from an analysis of a document given to us by our source in the Chechen Republic Interior Ministry. It consists of the typical photo charts that are used by all police officers and are compiled, apparently, according to a single template. (We can assume that Chechen police officers keep records of their “unofficial” actions according to the generally accepted practices of the Russian Interior Ministry.) The photographs were obviously taken immediately after the arrests; moroever, they were not taken in official police departments. Many of the detainees are handcuffed to gym wall bars or radiators, which are more typically found in basements. Marks have been made next to certain photographs, apparently, at different times. If there are no marks, it means the detainee was released. Marks containing the numbers of criminal code articles mean the detainee was later charged with a criminal offense. These marks were made in the same column of the photo chart, right after each detainee’s personal information.

That is, up until a certain point, the police had two options as to what to do with the detainees: release them or bring them up on criminal charges. Later, however, marks that have nothing to do with police expediency emerged on the margins of the list: plus and minus signs. The plus signs most often match detainees charged with criminal offenses. The minus signs can mean only one thing: extermination.

The Dead Speak
We would like to underscore the fact that despite its having been confirmed by two sources (the first source works in the Investigative Department of the Chechen Investigative Committee, and the second in the administration of the head of Chechnya), we cannot affirm that, on the night of January 25, an extrajudicial execution took place in Chechnya, unprecedented in its scale even for that republic.

But we can insist on instituting a criminal case, during which it would not be particularly hard to check this evidence. First, we have given the Russian Investigative Committee more than enough evidence about the victims. Second, the exhumation and postmortem forensic examination of corpses is quite capable of revealing traces of bullet wounds: they stay on bone remains forever. Ascertaining the identities of the presumed murder victims is also easy: DNA samples would need to be taken from the relatives of the victims for comparative analysis. Unlike the persecution of the gays, in which the victims’ families, albeit under duress, were involved in the crackdown, the relatives of people arrested on suspicion of extremism will assist investigators in this case. In addition, far from all of them know what really happened to their loved ones. Many still hope the detainees will come home alive. People are still looking for their loved ones who disappeared in January. They visit police stations and ask questions.

In response, they have heard the same excuses for months on end. “Maybe they are already somewhere in Syria.” “You should have kept track of your relatives yourselves. What do you want from us?” At best, the police tell these people, “You’ll find out when the time comes.”

Our recurrent and now public appeals to the Russian Investigative Committee are our attempt to bring to the country’s leadership and the country’s head investigators evidence that leaves little doubt that extrajudiciary executions have been actively pursued in Chechnya. We are sure it was long-term connivance of this practice that made possible the widespread persecution of gays in Chechnya. If this practice is not harshly eliminated, next time we will face an even more brazen crime than killing people only because somebody considered their sexual orientation unacceptable.

We have published this evidence because the state, as represented by the authorized law enforcement agencies, has left us no choice. For two months, we had hoped for cooperation, which was effective at the very outset. Today,it is obvious that the Russian Investigative Committee is giving ground on this case just as it gave ground in the Boris Nemtsov murder case. That is why we are publishing a list of those people who, according to our information, were victims of possibly the most terrible extrajudicial execution in Grozny. And now police investigators, who refer to the lack of living complainants, will have to deal with special witnesses.

Because in Chechnya only the dead have nothing to fear.

Novaya Gazeta‘s List
1. Abdulmezhidov, Adam Isayevich, born May 27, 1987
2. Abumuslimov, Apti Hasanovich, born June 2, 1989, resided at Shkolnaya Street, 16, Shali
3. Abdulkerimov, Said-Ramzan Ramzanovich, born March 25, 1990, registered at Dokhtukayev Street, 18, Kurchaloy
4. Alimkhanov, Islam Aliyevich, born July 6, 1998
5. Abubakarov, Adam Dzhabrailovich, born May 5, 1995
6. Bergayev, Ismail Shadidovich, born August 19, 1998
7. Dasayev, Adam Ilyasovich, born June 16, 1988, Shali
8. Jabayev, Zelimkhan Khizirovich, born December 18, 1993
9. Ilyasov, Adam Khuseinovich, born September 22, 1997
10. Lugayev, Rizvan Said-Khamzatovich, born September 13, 1987, Shali
11. Malikov, Rizvan Agdanovich, born June 1, 1990
12. Muskiyev, Mohma Turpalovich, born July 17, 1988, registered at Novaya Street, 10,  Tsotsi-Yurt
13. Mussanov, Temirlan Ahmadovich, born April 28, 1986, Chicherin Street, 2, Shali
14. Ozdiyev, Usman Vakhayevich, born December 24, 1989, registered at Grozny Street, 39, Shali
15.  Rashidov, Doku Ibrahimovich, born May 30, 1995
16. Syriyev, Magomed Musayevich, born February 23, 1993
17. Soltamanov, Ismail Ezer-Aliyevich, born March 30, 1994, registered at Nuradilov Street, Mayrtup
18. Suleimanov, Magomed Arbeyevich, born January 3, 1987, Caucasus Village, 8/4, Shali
19. Tuchayev, Ahmed Ramzanovich, born February 23, 1987, Shkolnaya Street, 30, Shali
20. Khabuyev, Khamzat Slaudinovich, born February 14, 1993
21. Hakimov, Alvi Aslambekovich, born November 16, 1992
22. Khamidov, Shamil Ahmedovich, born November 14, 1986
23. Tsikmayev, Ayub Sultanovich, born April 2, 1984, Molodezhnaya Street, Germenchuk
24. Shapiyev, Muslim Isayevich, born November 28, 1989, registered at Kutuzov Street, 12, Shali
25. Eskarbiyev, Saikhan Vahamsoltovich, born May 23, 1992
26. Yusupov, Sakhab Isayevich, born January 19, 1990
27. Yusupov, Shamkhan Shaykhovich, born June 17, 1988, registered at Soviet Street, 11, Kurchaloy

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

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