“Daddy, I Made a Mis­take. Take Me Home”

Rus­sian au­thor­i­ties turn their backs on the fam­i­lies whose chil­dren fall for IS*

The Moscow Times - - 4 LOOKING FORWARD - By Daria Litvi­nova d.litvi­nova@ime­dia.ru | Twit­ter: @dashal­itvi­novv

Var­vara Ka­raulova — she legally changed her name to Alexan­dra Ivanova, but ev­ery­one still calls her Var­vara — sits in­side the de­fen­dant’s dock, in her el­e­gant turquoise dress, and cries. “Your honor, please al­low us to pass a hand­ker­chief to the de­fen­dant — she is in tears,” says her lawyer Sergei Badamshin.

“Can we al­low this?” the judge asks the po­lice of­fi­cers guard­ing Ka­raulova in the court­room. “No, this is not al­lowed,” one of them an­swers un­emo­tion­ally. “Parcels are only al­lowed in pre­trial de­ten­tion.”

It is the sev­enth hear­ing of the trial, and Ka­raulova’s fa­ther, Pavel, is on the stand tes­ti­fy­ing. Af­ter a year con­fined to the Le­for­tovo pre-trial de­ten­tion prison, in­fa­mous for its poor con­di­tions, Var­vara un­der­went an un­ex­pected tran­si­tion. The fright­ened, de­pressed girl who hid from cam­eras in her coat’s hood turned into an at­trac­tive young woman who wears make up, smiles con­fi­dently and ex­changes jokes with her lawyers.

But even this new, con­fi­dent Var­vara couldn’t hold back her tears as she lis­tened to her fa­ther’s voice crack­ing as he de­scribed the day she dis­ap­peared. The de­fense main­tains that she ran off, blind with love, to meet her fi­ancé — who turned out to be an IS re­cruiter — in Syria. But the pros­e­cu­tion claims she left to join the Is­lamic State ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion. If con­victed, she faces up to five years in prison.

Pavel would never for­get that day, he said. He and his ex-wife, Var­vara’s mother, made thou­sands of calls that day — to their daugh­ter’s friends, her teach­ers, the po­lice, emer­gency ser­vices. With lit­tle help from the state agen­cies, Ka­raulov ended up go­ing to Tur­key on his own, look­ing for Var­vara, even­tu­ally lo­cat­ing her and bring­ing her home — only to have her ar­rested half a year later.

There is, in­deed, no place where fam­i­lies whose chil­dren fall un­der the in­flu­ence of IS re­cruiters, can go and ask for help, says Zoya Sve­tova. A jour­nal­ist, prom­i­nent hu­man rights ac­tivist, and former mem­ber of a Pub­lic Watch Com­mis­sion, she fre­quently in­spected the Le­for­tovo prison where Ka­raulova was kept and has fol­lowed the case ex­ten­sively.

“They have nowhere to run to. The res­cue of a drown­ing man is the drown­ing man’s own job,” Sve­tova told The Moscow Times. “No one apart from the FSB can in­ter­fere and help, but this ‘help’ usu­ally lands the per­son in ques­tion be­hind bars.”

The Long Way Home

Var­vara Ka­raulova, a 19-year-old phi­los­o­phy stu­dent who lived with her mother Kira, didn’t come home on May 27, 2015. Her wor­ried par­ents rushed to their lo­cal po­lice sta­tion. Usu­ally, Rus­sian Ilya Novikov, a prom­i­nent lawyer that de­fended Ukrainian ser­vice­woman Nadiya Savchenko, joined Var­vara Ka­raulova’s de­fense team on Oct. 17. law en­force­ment opens a missing per­son case only 72 hours af­ter the per­son dis­ap­peared, but Pavel Ka­raulov con­vinced po­lice of­fi­cers to start the in­ves­ti­ga­tion im­me­di­ately. “They must have seen trep­i­da­tion in our eyes and that made them meet us half­way,” he said in court.

Dur­ing the next sev­eral days, Ka­raulov would call, visit, and sub­mit of­fi­cial re­quests to every law en­force­ment body he could think of: the Pros­e­cu­tor’s Of­fice, the Fed­eral Se­cu­rity Ser­vice (FSB), the In­ves­tiga­tive Com­mit­tee, and the Moscow Po­lice. He would also call Var­vara’s friends and teach­ers.

Much to his sur­prise, he found out that his daugh­ter, bap­tized in the Rus­sian Ortho­dox Church, wore long skirts to the univer­sity and cov­ered her head with a shawl to make her look like a Mus­lim. Var­vara’s peers also told him that Var­vara had a boyfriend for three or four years, a Mus­lim who lived out­side of Rus­sia, whom she had never met and with whom she only cor­re­sponded on so­cial net­work­ing sites.

Through per­sonal con­nec­tions — Ka­raulov re­port­edly used to work for an IT firm that dealt with var­i­ous govern­ment in­sti­tu­tions — he found out that Var­vara got her­self an in­ter­na­tional pass­port and bought a plane ticket to Is­tan­bul.

Peo­ple who knew about the fam­ily’s situation told Ka­raulov that women were be­ing trans­ported to Syria through Tur­key.

“My daugh­ter is not a mon­ster, she is just a girl who can’t get over the ad­dic­tion to some­one she loves.” Kira Ka­raulova

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