Chechen lawyers faced slurs and intimidation by state officials

Editor’s note: This is the seventh post in an ongoing series from Russian member centre Interregional  Committee Against Torture on their use of a Joint Mobile Group to investigation human rights violations, such as torture. See the first, second, third , fourth, fifth and sixth post.

Lawyers of Committee Against Torture serving at Joint Mobile Group in Chechnya were subjected to threats by local authorities including Ramzan Kadyrov

On 1 June 2012 in Grozny, in Skver Zhurnalistov (Journalists’ Park) there was a demonstration devoted to the problem of enforced disappearance of Chechen residents. The action was organised by human rights NGO “Materinskaya Trevoga” (Mother’s Anxiety). In addition to human rights defenders, there were relatives of people subjected to enforced disappearance among the participants.

The demonstration was aimed at attracting attention to the problem of enforced disappearances. Lawyers of the Joint Mobile Group of Russian human rights organizations (JMG), which has been permanently working in Chechnya since 2009, also joined the demonstration.

As for officials, the event was attended by Magomed Daudov, head of the Chechen President’s Office and Government, and Muslim Khuchiyev, Grozny Mayor. Having talked to demonstration participants, the latter noticed JMG lawyers and asked them to come up and tell him who they were and where they came from.

JMG leader Dmitry Utukin introduced himself and explained JMG’s objectives and tasks, as well as about the reasons for JMG’s participation in the demonstration.

Magomed Daudov asked Roemer Lemaitre (a Belgian national) about the purpose of his visit to Chechnya. Mr.Lemaitre explained that he was investigating into abductions of individuals by state agents. Daudov advised him to return to Belgium “to set apart men kissing each others right in the streets”.

After a short conversation, Khuchiyev invited the JMG to the Grozny Mayor’s Office “to get to know each other better and have a more specific talk”.

The talk appeared to be a meeting with quite a number of participants, with Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, Head of the Chechen President’s Office and Government Magomed Daudov, Grozny Mayor Muslim Khuchiyev, Head of the Chechen Investigative Administration under the Russian Investigative Committee Viktor Ledenyov, Chechen Prosecutor Mikhail Savchin, Chechen Interior Minister Ruslan Alkhanov and other high-standing officials among them.

Workers of Materinskaya Trevoga and mothers whose children had disappeared were also present in the meeting.

The meeting was opened by the Chechen head who addressed the participants in Chechen. Then he switched to Russian and continued with slashing criticism in respect of human rights organisations, and particularly, the Committee Against Torture. He pointed to CAT International Law Expert Roemer Lemaitre:

“These ones, with long hair, have arrived from Belgium to ruin the sovereignty. The war was unleashed here because of them. We are working for the population to feel fine. I have lost everything I had because of the war. Four-hundred-twenty people under my commander have perished. I have invited the Minister (Interior Minister), Prosecutor, Investigative Committee Head. As a guarantor, I am sure that the culprits will be held responsible for what they have done, if not right now, then in Kingdom come. These guys (pointing to JMG members) hate Chechens. They have come here to earn money! They are taking pictures of everything in order to upload them to the internet to make us buttheads. Together with Kalyapin (CAT Chairman), they have all the powers to put an end to lawlessness; they can bring whoever they need from Europe. They don’t want this, they want us to beg, to implore.

I am asking you – are you going to help me? Or you only help shaitans and their aides who must be destroyed? I am going to defend human right till the end of my days (addressing mothers of disappeared people). I’m searching for your sons. Putin cares for our folk; without Putin we would not live now. Human rights defenders are not interested in you, human rights organizations are not working. Kalyapin praised me saying that I was great and then wrote nonsense to the European Parliament! They are watching, filming, today they wanted the police to disperse you with clubs, like in Spain, and then they would broadcast it in the internet. I am ready to answer any questions. Please ask me a question that would make me blush!”

After that the floor was given to JMG leader Dmitry Utukin. Ignoring the filth and mire that the JMG had been dragged through, he asked a specific question: “Why are investigators afraid to question high-standing Interior Ministry commanders? Why don’t they conduct investigative activities? Why those who do take investigative steps face pressure and fierce opposition?”

Mr. Kadyrov did not let him finish and started explaining that even he had been interrogated under Zarema Gaysanova’s case (“The wife of a shaitan we had killed, but we let her go” – Kadyrov). He added that all law enforcement bodies were constantly in touch with him and were allowed to access any place in Chechnya.

Then the Chechen President left the meeting, and Magomed Daudov, head of the Chechen President’s Office and Government, took the floor. He explained that he knew about JMG’s activities not by hearsay. In 2010 he learned that some individuals were offering Chechen residents money in exchange for false statements about tortures. He personally checked that report and detained three JMG participants, kept them in a police department for a night and then released them. He once again accused the JMG of bribing.

He also remarked that in August 2009 there was an attempt on his life, and the CAT was representing one of the accused under that case. “Now it turns out that I am a thug, and they are victims. They have even filed an application with Strasbourg claiming the conviction was wrong.” Daudov (who has a degree in law and a diploma with honours – this information he has gladly shared) should know that if there are no charges brought against a detainee, the detention must not exceed three hours.

Mr. Daudov did not let JMG members respond to that lie by constantly interrupting them.  He has decided to make the JMG look bad in the eyes of journalists and victims.

Furthermore, he asked JMG leader Dmitry Utukin what concrete steps he could take to improve the situation in the Republic. Mr. Utukin replied that the problem of torture and abductions should be solved within the legal framework and they were ready to cooperate with the Investigative Committee in any format.

Then the floor was given to Viktor Ledenyov, head of the Chechen Investigative Administration under the Russian Investigative Committee. He said that there was no good from JMG’s activities; it just made the things worse. The JMG was interfering with the investigation making various departments quarrel. He maintained that the Committee Against Torture had proposed organising a workshop on international law, but Ledenyov was sure that the Investigative Committee did not need it. “We do not need your services”, he added.

As for Chechen Prosecutor Mikhail Savchin, he claimed that he was looking for CAT Chairman Kalyapin to have a meeting with him, but the latter was not available. “I’m not going to meet with you again”, the prosecutor said. This statement surprised Kalyapin because neither the Investigative Committee, nor the Prosecutor’s Office have reached out to him, although they know his phone number.

Interior Minister Ruslan Alkhanov also contributed to accusations against the JMG. He stated that the JMG was lacking required jurisdiction to engage in operative investigation. In reply to that Utukin pointed out that his Russian citizen’s passport was the only jurisdiction he had. He added: “We have come here to solve the problem and not to drag each other through the mud. We need a platform for an open and honest conversation”. In his turn, Magomed Daudov assured human right defenders that all doors of the President’s Office were open to them, that he could organise meetings at the top level and called the JMG to an open dialogue. He suggested to meet again and talk in a less tense environment in order to dot the i’s.

The JMG expressed hope that the meeting would bring tangible results. At this optimistic point, the meeting came to end.

We would like to remind you that the Joint Mobile Group consisting of representatives from various Russian human rights organisations has been working in Chechnya since 2009. The JMG was created in order to obtain reliable and verified information about human rights violations in the Chechen Republic. Additionally, the Group is also trying to determine the reasons for ineffective investigation of torture and abductions by Chechen investigative authorities. The inadequacy of such investigations is confirmed with increasing frequency by European Court judgments. JMG lawyers are investigating allegations of torture and abductions thathave taken place in the Republic in recent years. In the framework of such investigations JMG lawyers represent the interests of individuals granted the status of victims in criminal proceedings. These criminal cases are processed by different offices of the Chechen Investigative Administration under the Russian Investigative Committee.

While working with these cases, the JMG has many times faced numerous procedural violations committed by officials of different level. However, human rights defenders are especially concerned with the situations when investigative authorities are basically deprived of a possibility to investigate such cases due to poor performance of police agents who systematically fail to perform investigators’ tasks, as well as incapacity of investigative authorities’ heads to solve the problem.

At present the Joint Mobile Group consists of JMG leader Dmitry Utukin – CAT Public Investigation Department Head, Sergey Babinets – Public Investigation Inspector of the CAT Orenburg office and Roemer Lemaitre – CAT International Law expert.

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