Chech­nya’s brave ‘mice’ fight back against bru­tal­ity

The Sunday Telegraph - - World News - By Alec Luhn in Kras­naya Turbina, Chech­nya

On Jan 27, Magomed Taramov was at his mother’s flat as­sem­bling a baby bed to go in the small house he had built in a fam­ily com­pound. The quiet 20-year-old, a for­mer mixed mar­tial arts champion, was to be mar­ried in April, and he and his sis­ter were plan­ning to dis­cuss the wed­ding with his fi­ancée the next day.

But he would miss the meet­ing and the cer­e­mony. Mr Taramov’s fa­ther, a re­tired mil­i­tary of­fi­cer who is sep­a­rated from his mother, called and told him to come back to nearby Kras­naya Turbina, a vil­lage out­side the re­gional cap­i­tal Grozny. Po­lice were wait­ing there to ar­rest him.

This month, a judge found that Mr Taramov and Dzhamalai Tazbiyev, 19, had “har­boured in­ten­tions” to go to Syria and join an “il­le­gal armed for­ma­tion” and sen­tenced them to five years in prison. The ver­dict, based on con­fes­sions the two men tes­ti­fied had been ob­tained through tor­ture, in­fu­ri­ated rel­a­tives and neigh­bours.

“The only in­ten­tion he har­boured over the past three years was to get mar­ried as soon as pos­si­ble and start hav­ing kids and a house­hold,” Mr Taramov’s sis­ter Seda Edil­geriyeva told The Sun­day Tele­graph.

“There was a lot of un­truth and vi­o­la­tions,” his mother Raisa Edil­geriyeva said of the trial. “Just lies ev­ery­where, lies and defama­tion.”

But rather than swal­low their anger, the vil­lagers did some­thing un­think­able in Chech­nya, a mostly Mus­lim repub­lic in Rus­sia ruled with an iron fist by rebel-turned-loy­al­ist Ramzan Kady­rov: 162 peo­ple signed an open let­ter call­ing on Moscow to in­ter­vene, bring­ing the wrath of the au­thor­i­ties down upon them­selves.

“Lit­tle by lit­tle peo­ple are get­ting tired of this law­less­ness,” said one of the sign­ers, who spoke anony­mously for fear of fur­ther re­pres­sions. “Even a tiny mouse driven into a cor­ner will with its last strength bite its at­tacker. What we’re do­ing now is that last bite.”

Vladimir Putin ap­pointed Mr Kady­rov to run Chech­nya, ask­ing few ques­tions about hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions as long as he stamped out Is­lamist in­sur­gency.

Al­though ter­ror­ist at­tacks have grown less fre­quent in Chech­nya, anti-ter­ror­ism crack­downs by po­lice and se­cu­rity forces have only become more bru­tal. Mr Taramov and Mr Tazbiyev were caught up in a wave of ar­rests af­ter a group of young men – the au­thor­i­ties linked them to Is­lamic State of Iraq and the Le­vant (Isil) – at­tacked a po­lice of­fi­cer in Grozny on Dec 17.

The in­te­rior min­istry re­acted quickly. An in­ves­ti­ga­tion by in­de­pen­dent news­pa­per No­vaya Gazeta found that po­lice rounded up ac­quain­tances of the at­tack­ers, then ac­quain­tances of these ac­quain­tances and so on un­til some 200 peo­ple had been de­tained with­out charge. At least 27 of them were shot at a po­lice base on the night of Jan 25, ac­cord­ing to the news­pa­per. It is try­ing to con­firm the al­leged ex­e­cu­tions of 29 more.

Mr Taramov and Mr Tazbiyev, an award-win­ning pi­ano player, were fi­nally ac­cused in March. The ques­tion­able charges, which their lawyer Vladimir Rutkovsky said were al­most ex­actly the same as those against sev­eral oth­ers, al­leged they had planned to travel to Syria by foot.

In court, the pair tes­ti­fied they had been tor­tured to con­fess at a riot po­lice head­quar­ters.

“They put me on a cot, tied my hands and feet and beat me with an iron rod, start­ing here,” Mr Taramov said, ges­tur­ing to his ribs, No­vaya Gazeta re­ported from an Au­gust hear­ing. The pros­e­cu­tor did not re­spond to the al­le­ga­tions in court. For five to six days, his cap­tors would beat him and shock him with an elec­tric cur­rent un­til he passed out, he said.

In re­sponse, rel­a­tives and neigh­bours called on Rus­sia’s pros­e­cu­tor gen­eral Yury Chaika to bring to jus­tice those who had de­tained and tor­tured them. The back­lash came the day of the let­ter’s pub­li­ca­tion. Mr Rutkovsky saw Mr Tazbiyev’s un­cle taken into a po­lice sta­tion, af­ter which he sent the lawyer a chill­ing au­dio mes­sage: “They’re beat­ing, they’re beat­ing, they’re beat­ing”.

When the lawyer saw him, he was dis­ori­ented and ap­peared to be suf­fer­ing in­ter­nal in­juries. The po­lice de­clined to com­ment and the in­te­rior min­istry could not be reached as The Sun­day Tele­graph went to press.

More than 60 res­i­dents of Kras­naya Turbina were then brought to a meet­ing with Kheda Sara­tova, a mem­ber of Mr Kady­rov’s hu­man rights coun­cil, and Magomed Mago­madov, the po­lice of­fi­cer ac­cused of tor­tur­ing the two men. Ms Sara­tova later an­nounced that they had ad­mit­ted they didn’t know what they were sign­ing.

She also said Mr Taz­bieyev’s un­cle and Mr Taramov’s fa­ther told her that they had not been tor­tured. But four res­i­dents later told The Sun­day Tele­graph they had un­der­stood the essence of the let­ter.

“I knew (what I signed), and peo­ple knew, but when they said, ‘We will rape you in front of your fam­ily,’ what can you do?” one of them said. “Peo­ple are afraid of the regime, afraid of re­pres­sions.”

Mr Chaika has not of­fi­cially re­sponded to the let­ter’s al­le­ga­tions of tor­ture or il­le­gal de­ten­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to Ye­lena Mi­lashina, a No­vaya Gazeta jour­nal­ist who has re­ceived death threats for her work in Chech­nya, Mr Kady­rov’s bru­tal anti-ter­ror­ist cam­paigns are in­creas­ingly pro­vok­ing dis­sent like the Kras­naya Turbina let­ter.

“Some good things are hap­pen­ing in Chech­nya, but they pale in com­par­i­son to the vi­o­lence that the regime is driv­ing through the peo­ple like a bull­dozer,” she said.

Oth­ers may pick up a gun rather than a pen, warned Gre­gory Shve­dov, editor of the Cau­casian Knot web­site.

“Peo­ple who see un­just re­al­i­ties they will keep re­act­ing in var­i­ous forms,” he said. “It’s not a par­tic­u­lar act of vi­o­lence but the sys­tem it­self which is op­pres­sive.”

‘There was a lot of un­truth and vi­o­la­tion. Just lies ev­ery­where, lies and defama­tion’

Un­der Ramzan Kady­rov, head of the Chechen Repub­lic, bru­tal crack­downs have taken place by po­lice and se­cu­rity forces

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