Chechen Republic: Kadyrov’s Revenge - Collective Punishments
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On the night of December 3rd-4th, 11 members of an armed group launched an attack against local security officials in central Grozny [Johar]. In the fight that followed all of them were killed as well as 14 security officers and at least one civilian. Allegedly, the armed men were the same as the ones that hijacked three taxicabs in the southwest of Grozny [Johar] earlier in the evening. It is presumed they used the vehicles to infiltrate the city. When security officers stopped their convoy they discovered a massive arsenal of automatic guns, grenades, and other weapons. Reportedly that’s when violence broke out leading to the deaths of several officers. According to a witness, most people in Grozny [Johar] speculate that the incursion was a failed effort to attack Grozny's [Johar's] airport where Ramzan Kadyrov's private jet was expected to land around the time of the incident. Ramzan Kadyrov is the Kremlin-installed leader of the predominantly Muslim region of North Caucasus in the Chechen Republic.
As the fighting intensified the armed men fled into Grozny's [Johar's] “Print House” Building, which ended up in flames and under siege.
Ramzan Kadyrov, using his favorite social platform Instagram, addressed the public telling Grozny [Johar] residents to stay indoors until the situation was under control, which he anticipated would be by morning time, December 4th. He was eager to blame this daring attack on "insurgent" groups from outside the Chechen Republic. Following his recent public announcements, in which he stated he had purged all the rebels from the region, Kadyrov wrote, “We do not rule out the possibility that these people could have come from another region. There are no more illegal armed groups in Chechnya capable of such actions.”
While Chechen security services in Grozny [Johar] were still fighting with the last of the armed men, Novaya Gazeta journalist Elena Milashina surmised on Facebook that the second stage of the "counter-terrorist operation"—the retaliation of the authorities—would be worse for civilians. Milashina noted that the militants, on the other hand, were careful to avoid civilian casualties: "It wasn't just a coincidence. [The militants] are not nice people. They are, however, excellent strategists. They know well what reaction will come from Kadyrov… Kadyrov will take revenge on the militants’ relatives, distant and close, with disproportionate cruelty. [But] in doing so, he can't even invoke fear, because it's not possible to be more afraid. The limit has been reached. This is why the militants killed in Grozny will be regarded as heroes…because common people are ALREADY under fire in Chechnya."
The day after the attacks a statement was released by the head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov: "If, by an action of rebels in Chechnya, a police officer or another government person is killed, the family members of the rebel will be swiftly expelled from Chechnya with no right to return, and [their] home will be completely destroyed along with its foundation."
On December 6th in the Chechen Republic, the burning and demolition of houses of relatives of the suspected militants began. Groups of unidentified men, presumably Chechen special forces, descended on the homes of the families of suspected militants in Gudermes, Yandy, and in other towns. Some are actually family members of the suspected militants of the Grozny attack but others have no relation whatsoever to these events. An informant in Kotar-Yurt in the Achkhoi-Martan District described the campaign to the website Kavkaz Uzel: "They surrounded the Byutukaevs’ home, broke the windows and doors, and then set it ablaze. Despite the fact that the fire threatened to spread to other homes, they did not allow us to put it out. They drove people away with shouting and threats." As of the night of December 18-19th, Human rights defenders and journalists have reported 13 destroyed homes in the last two weeks.
*Update-as of 23 December, a total of 15 homes have been destroyed and confirmed-
According to the latest data of the HRC "Memorial", four houses were demolished in the villages of Alpatovo, Naur District, Geldagan, Kurchaloy District, Ishkhoy-Yurt, Gudermes District, and in Gudermes.
On December 6, in the village of Alpatovo, they burned down the house of the family of Imran Utsimiev. On December 4, Imran's son Baysangur, 18, took part in the attack on Grozny and was killed. The house burned down, the Utsimiev family left in an unknown direction, rights defenders report.
According to the HRC "Memorial", at night on December 13, authorities completely demolished the house of Sultan Vakhayev in the village of Geldagan, Kurchaloy District. The house was empty: the family moved out of the country back in 2013.
Ishkhoy-Yurt villagers reported that at night on December 21, authorities demolished the empty house of Masara Vadalova. According to rights defenders, one of her sons, Aslambek, joined the armed underground in the beginning of the first Chechen war.
In Gudermes, at night on December 13, the family house of Ruslan Magomadov was demolished. "Their son Magomed was among the militants involved in the attack on Grozny on December 4. Following these events, the family left in an unknown direction," says the release.
Sergei Babinets is a lawyer and staff member of Joint Mobile Group , the Grozny [Johar] branch of the Committee Against Torture, a Nizhni Novgorod-based NGO. After the arsons, Babinets posted online some of the first pictures of the destroyed homes, providing evidence that Kadyrov is actively pursuing his stated policy of punishing the relatives of suspected militants. The full album can be viewed HERE
On December 9th Russian human rights defender Igor Kalyapin called on the Russian authorities, attorney General Yury Chaika and Russia's top federal investigator, Alexander Bastrykin, to investigate the possibility of a criminal offence when the Head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov promised to expel the families of alleged insurgents from Chechnya and to destroy their houses. Igor Kalyapin referred to Article 286 of the Russian Criminal Code (“Abuse of authority”). This was the first time in five years, and hadn’t happened since the assassination of human rights worker Natalya Estemirova in 2009, a civic activist publicly criticized Kadyrov.
The following day on December 10th Ramzan Kadyrov, through his Instagram account, claimed that “a certain Kalyapin decided to defend bandits and their families.” He further claimed that,“security services have information that somebody called Kalyapin transfers money from foreign secret services… to bandits” and that they need to check “whether this is the same Kalyapin” and if so “he should be held responsible.”
The next day on December 11th , while speaking at a press-conference in Moscow, Kalyapin highlighted the unlawful practice of collective punishment in the Chechen Republic. Two men attacked him while he was speaking, accusing him of supporting terrorism, and pelted him with eggs while shouting "Ramzan is a hero to Russia"
[Video by Grani.ru]
Following the egg attack at the press conference Kalyapin wrote on his facebook account of who he believed were responsable, "They weren't Chechen" . Since the press conference, Igor Kalyapin has been receiving threatening phone calls and text messages, some of which contain direct death threats.
On December 12th, well known Soviet political dissident and opposition writer, Alexander Podrabinek, wrote on his facebook page:
"THE MAN AND HIS NAME - I have information that a man by the name of Kadyrov has committed crimes, encouraging organized mob violence-lynching and extrajudicial killings, while using his official position in Government Office. It will be necessary to check whether or not this is the same Kadyrov who has been serving as the head of the Chechen Republic and accuses a man named Kalyapin [Igor Kalyapin-Civil Rights Defender] of aiding terrorists.
And the other day I was given the latest information from sources that a man by the name of Putin illegally holds office for the fourth time. It is necessary to check whether or not this is the same Putin who is serving as the President of Russia and therefore protects this man by the name of Kadyrov."
On December 13th, a large rally, ostensibly “against terrorism,” took place in Grozny [Johar]. Demonstrators registered their support for Kadyrov and many in the crowd also carried banners antagonizing local human rights activists. For example, one sign read, “Kalyapin Go Home $.” Some people on social media reporting on the event claimed that many of the protesters were there against their will or that they didn’t really understand the purpose of the rally. Later that evening members of the staff of Joint Mobile Group were followed by armed masked men in a car, which was believed to belong to Chechen security officials. They looked for safety in a local hotel and called police to make a report of the suspicious people following them. They had also spotted these men outside their offices. During their stay in the hotel the staff members were notified that the office had caught fire.
Video from Novaya Gazeta-"Sergey Babinets - the attack on the Joint Mobile Group in Grozny"
Video-EN Report from Al Jazeera journalists who were with Sergey and Dmitry on the night of the attack of their office/apartment- "Chechen Rights Defenders Under Intimidation"
Photo below is of the men outside the office/apartment, one is believed to have a gun. Sergey reports that two of them appear to resemble men he knows that work directly with Chechen security services.
The next day, when Sergey and Dmitry went back to their office/apartment to assess the damage and to salvage what was left, they were detained by police. About 10 officers entered the apartment that was rented by the Joint Mobile Group in Grozny [Johar] and, without providing any explanation or a search warrant to the two staff members present, ransacked the office, confiscated mobile phones and several still cameras, lap-top computers, and other electronic equipment. They also conducted body searches of the two staff members and a searched their car. When he asked for an explanation of the searches Sergey reported that one of the officers said he looked suspicious because of his long beard. The police held the two members, Sergey Babinets and Dmitry Dimitriev, for several hours before they were released without charges.
The following are a few of the photos they took of the damage to their office/apartment. The full album can be viewed HERE
The photo above shows what was etched into one of the burned walls of the JMG's office, it reads: "you are only protecting the rights of criminal bandits, where is the rights of my father"
In the photo above Sergey Babinets stands in the center of the JMG's burned and demolished office holding the charred Front Line Defender award they received in 2011.
Committee to Prevent Torture (KPP)- Комитет Против Пыток - Lawyer/Civil Rights Defender, Anton Ryzhov-summarized the night before on his facebook about the attacks: ..."There is no point in trying to scare us... We will remain in Chechnya [Chechen Republic] … and provide support to all those who ask us."
Karena Avedissian, a blogger at RuNet Echo and a researcher/student who went to Grozny in 2012 and observed personally the work that the staff of JMG does in the Chechen Repubic, notes the importance of the Joint Mobile Group: "Joint Mobile Group is one of the last remaining independent human rights organizations in the Chechen Republic. The group's lawyers offer Chechens a rare means to address social problems that no one else discusses. If recent incidents ultimately force the organization from Chechnya, the loss to the local population—with its many victims of kidnappings, torture, and murder—would be difficult to exaggerate."
In an interview with Grani.ru on December 16th, Igor Kalyapin addresses the threats and intimidation tactics the JMG-KPP are facing in the Chechen Republic, he states, "We're not going anywhere"
Also on December 16th Elena Milashina, wrote in her blog "As ordered, by the head of the Chechen Republic"of what their investigative journalism has uncovered at Novaya Gazeta which reveales some of the details of who is being targeted for this collective punishment campaign in the Chechen Republic by Kadyrov, some of those details are translated and summarized below:
"Because of the [repressive] circumstances in the Chechen Republic, almost nothing is known about the families that have lost the roof over their heads. These people hide and stay silent. To assist them in Chechnya is dangerous. They are treated as though they are lepers. On Tuesday, the editor of Novaya Gazeta reports they have found that there are three families and a total of 17 people who have been the target of this campaign. Bulldozers demolished two of the families’ houses on the night of the 14-15th and on the night of 15-16th of December.
Amongst the 17 people who are now on the street, and those who have potentially now lost the roof over their heads in the cold month of December, are 8 children.
Their ages are: 10, 8, 5, 4, 3, 1, 8 months and 5 months old.
Of the adults there are three elderly persons of the ages 54, 59 and 60 years old.
One male (39 yrs old) is seriously ill and is in a wheelchair.
"...The Embassies of foreign countries which are home to some of the relatives of these people have agreed to help them, but they can only do this if they have the relevant documents they need (which were not allowed to be retrieved by these people when they were forced from their homes).
...It is much easier to deal with static targets. In this case, with human rights activists working in Chechnya and with the elderly and children, whose only fault is that they are the relatives of suspected militants. A child is responsible for actions of his/her uncle? And an eight-month old baby?...Criminal responsibility begins in Russia at the age of 14 years. But in Chechnya, apparently, while in the belly of a pregnant woman."
On the night of December 18-19th the 13th house was demolished in the village of Koshkeldy (native village of Chechen human rights activist Natalya Estemirova). Milashina points out that the The Shabanov family that lived there does not appear to be linked to any of people found on the list of armed men that were involved with events in central Grozny [Johar] during the night of December 3-4th.
*Update* Ishkhoy-Yurt villagers reported that at night on December 21, authorities demolished the empty house of Masara Vadalova. According to rights defenders, one of her sons, Aslambek, joined the armed underground in the beginning of the first Chechen war.
On December 18th the Investigation Committee opened a case into Kadyrov's claims that Kalyapin's NGO-Committee Against Torture, is financed by Western Countries to support the "terrorist" underground in the Chechen Republic. Kadyrov wrote on his instagram that Kalyapin and his Committee of human rights group defending chechens are made up of "young, athletic men" who are "henchmen" sent from the "US State Department". He wrote "But the reality is that Kalyapin and his group are not interested in human rights. They are only interested in the rights of militias, terrorists and their families." He claimed that the reason for this is because they receive funding from sources of the embassy of the UK and "other western sources".
Igor Kalyapin responded to these empty allegations of Kayrov's on his facebook page: "Interestingly, (Mr.) Ramzan Akhmadovich doesn't want to talk to me live and in person on ANY [media] site where we would be given an equal opportunity to ask each other questions, which would allow people to hear the answers and have them judge for themselves. I am happy to answer questions about financing, a decent portion of which the Committee Against Torture receives from the Russian Federation, and about the expenditure of these funds. In particular I would like to talk about how many Chechens, who have been subjected to unlawful violence in the Chechen Republic, received support and proper treatment from these funds. We are working, in addition to Chechnya, in a total of 5 regions of Russia. I promise to provide official documentation, which will show proof of every word I say" ... he then pointed out the fact that Ramzan's attacks were weak and one sided.
At Thursday's [December 18th ] huge end of the year national, annual press conference, Russian President Vladimir Putin, stated that the demolition of homes of the suspected militants in Chechnya might actually be a provocation against Kadyrov. "We do not know who these people are, who are burning the houses," the President said, "Kadyrov's statements could be just waves of emotions-and others could be taking advantage of these statements."
On December 19th , Igor Kalyapin wrote the following on his facebook:
"staff members" of the "Committee Against Torture", participating in the Joint Mobile Group in the Chechen Republic, soon will prepare and issue on-line reports of the investigations of several cases involving torture. We will explain to readers what we do and why no member of the Chechen police, who have committed acts of torture, have been brought before the Courts in Chechnya. In the meantime, I ask that you view a story about the abduction of Islam Umarpashaev. This show was featured in the eastern part of Russia, and then taken off the air [and not allowed to be broadcasted]. Neither the people living in the Caucasus, nor in Moscow were allowed to view it. The Criminal investigation into the abduction of Islam Umarpashaev by "unidentified security service officers" is still ongoing"
Information of the case investigation of Islam Umarpashaev can be found here in english