The Neverending story of the North Caucasus

рубрика: Bilder & Comics

No other region on the European continent has suffered over the last twenty years as much as the North Caucasus. The region has endured two devastating wars, terrorism, and pervasive violence and injustice up to the present. The situation in this piece of land on the borders of Europe is far from being peaceful today and the people have continued to be legitimately worried about their safety.

Today can hardly be compared with the war years, when as a result of the fighting in Chechnya tens of thousands of civilians were killed and entire neighborhoods of cities were bombed. The capital of Chechnya, Grozny, has been sumptuously reconstructed over the last few years, but behind the new facades fear rules far and wide. The state can call for anyone anytime and a person can just disappear. There is no one that can be turned to for justice; often it is impossible to even figure out what exactly happened. In Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov governs over the land and his armed units, commonly known as the Kadyrovtsy, are connected to a range of accusations over torture and other horrific crimes. Free media, independent courts or police simply do not exist – everything is subordinated to Ramzan Kadyrov. Chechnya can be considered, within the area of the North Caucasus and Russia, in its measure of totalitarianism as an extreme case. However, torture, abductions and extrajudicial executions also occur in other regions in the North Caucasus. In recent years, especially in Dagestan, the army and police have been struggling with rebels – whether real or imagined – who want to impose a strictly Islamic character on the country. Among other things, shootings, explosions and other operations using heavy military equipment happen often.

Chechnya, Dagestan, and Ingushetia – each of the republics of the North Caucasus has its own problems in many respects, but the common denominator is the impunity of security forces, which in these societies has incrementally led to a sense of injustice and helplessness, and only complicates and delays finding a real solution to the problems of the region. As pointed out by Russian human rights defenders, torture, murder and disappearances are made possible precisely because the state security forces, in practice, do not have to follow the laws – they are in fact protected by the highest levels of leadership of the state. The only hope for justice, however delayed and somewhat distant it might be, is through the European Court of Human Rights, which is swamped with legal cases from Russia, a large portion of which currently are cases from Chechnya and the other republics of the North Caucasus.

In comparison with other times in the past, today is it naturally far more difficult for local human rights defenders, who are trying their best even under these difficult conditions to find justice, to attract international attention about the complex issues of the North Caucasus – through this exhibition we would like to contribute to their efforts.

The disappearance of Abubakar Tsechoev in 2012 caught the interest of Ingushetia’s president Yunus-Bek Yevkurov more so than other similar cases, to the point that he felt compelled to react to citizens’ complaints demanding that he put an end to such abductions. The Ingush people were threatening to take to the streets. On March 22, 2012, Abubakar was abducted straight from his workplace, which was a water management station in Ingushetia. At around 9 p.m., about ten masked men entered the water management company’s premises. They cut the barbed wire around the station and cut off the electricity. There were three witnesses of the armed abduction – Abubakar’s colleagues. They were the ones who informed Abubakar’s family about what happened. The family tried to notify the relevant authorities immediately. However, they recommended to wait before submitting the notification about the abduction and to see if perhaps Abubakar managed to return home in the meantime.

The Tsechoev family already had experience with unlawful detention. Abubakar’s brother Islam was abducted in 2001. On top of that, he was abducted with his supposed accomplice, a Chechen called Salambek, whom he said he had never seen before. Both men were tortured and unlawfully transferred to different locations in the Russian Federation. Islam eventually filed a criminal complaint with the European Court of Human Rights. The Court ruled against Russia for breaching the European Convention on Human Rights. Since filing the complaint, Islam has not been able to live in Ingushetia out of fear for his safety. Abubakar Tsechoev has not been found.

»There were three other people working with my brother at the station – an electrician, a machine operator and a security man. At around 3 a.m. the machine operator came to our house and told us what had happened, saying how at about 9 p.m. armed men broke into the water management station,« says Ibragim Tsechoev, another brother of the abducted Abubakar. »Abubakar was assaulted by at least three men, who beat him with the butts of their assault rifles, as well as with their fists and feet. Then they put handcuffs on him, carried him out of the station and left in their cars, most likely in UAZs,« added Abubakar’s brother Ibragim, giving the details from the machine operator’s testimony.

»The machine operator said that he and his colleagues were tied and threatened that they would be shot to death if they moved. At around 2 a.m. the machine operator succeeded in freeing himself out of the ropes, untied his other colleagues and went right away to our house. He had to go on foot since the abductors had immobilized the car. They also took all of their phones, radio transmitters and even the change out of their pockets,« Ibragim, one of the abducted man’s brothers, told journalists. Abubakar Tsechoev’s brother said he immediately went to report the abduction to the police.

»However, they did not accept my official notification. Instead, I was told that in such cases one must wait for three days. So I went there again with the machine operator who worked at the station. This time, they finally recorded the testimony. Still, they only went to the scene of the abduction the next morning,« said Ibragim Tsechoev.

The death of Magomed Yevloyev, the owner of the opposition website Ingushetiya.ru, is considered by many to be another victim in a series of many unclear deaths of »inconvenient« independent journalists in Russia.

On August 31, 2008, Magomed coincidentally happened to find himself on board of a plane from Moscow to Ingushetia with his »ideological enemy« Murat Zyazikov. While they were still on board, he was already texting his friends and his family saying it might be a better idea for them to meet him right at the airport. In 2008, his life was constantly filled with fear. After his arrival, Magomed was immediately arrested and taken away.

His friends, who were waiting for him at the airport, followed the cars that were taking Magomed. They managed to stop one of the cars. They found out that in the vehicle were members of the security detail of the Minister of Interior Musa Medov, who had been at the airport to personally welcome the plane with the president on board. Magomed’s friends who continued following the vehicle with Magomed, then saw the abductors throw Magomed, who was already dying, out of the car outside of a hospital. He died on the operating table, having suffered a gunshot wound to the head. Based on the official explanation, Yevloyev’s injury occurred when Yevloyev fell on a gun belonging to one of the security men during a fight in the car after he had been arrested. During the investigation one of the security guards was charged with a crime deemed as »manslaughter resulting from negligence, while carrying out one’s duties.« Having had his sentence commuted after two years in prison, this man was shot to death by unknown perpetrators in a café in Nazran, Ingushetia’s capital city.

After his arrival in Nazran, president Zyazikov briefly stopped to talk to Musa Medov, the Minister of Interior. Afterwards, he left the airport. According to witnesses, Musa Medov then waved his hand – and UAZ vehicles, which were prepared there, came up to the plane. Two policemen entered the first class cabin and asked: »Who here is Magomed Yevloyev?« Magomed said that it was him and stood up. He was told to follow them. The Yevloyevs heard later on that the airport’s security service was informed two hours prior to the arrival of the plane that an arrest would occur at the airport.

When, on the way from the airport, Magomed’s friends stopped one of the cars, the men in it shouted at them in Ingush: »This blood is not on our hands.« Magomed Yevloyev’s friends only completely grasped the meaning after they learned of their friend’s death. When Yevloyev’s family and friends came to the hospital, it was completely surrounded by members of the federal security forces. Only one friend of the injured Yevloyev was allowed to enter the hospital. It was Magomed Chazbijev. Based on his words, there was blood on the stairs that had clearly come from Yevloyev’s wounds when he was being taken into the hospital. Magomed died on the operating table without having regained consciousness. Yevloyev’s funeral turned into an opposition demonstration in the center of Nazran after around one thousand people showed up. The people gathered there called out protest slogans: »Zyazikov, resign!« and »Yevloyev’s murderers must be held accountable!« The opposition speakers spoke openly at the demonstration about their doubts, saying this was not an accidental death while accusing the Ministry of Interior and president Zyazikov of their involvement in the murder.

Ramazan Umarov was taken by the police directly from his apartment in the capital city of Dagestan Makhachkala on April 28, 2007 at 8 a.m. Two other men were detained with him at the same time, but they were released after being interrogated. Ramazan, on the other hand, ended up disappearing without a trace.For several weeks his family tried in vain to find out where he could be. They met with people who allegedly had some information about him, but without any real results. The police only started to investigate Ramazan’s disappearance on May 18, 2007.

In December 2007, Ramazan’s father and sister took the matter to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The Russian side claimed at the hearing that during the investigation it was impossible to confirm Ramazan’s death, as well as the claim that state security forces had been involved in his disappearance. According to Russia, the investigation had been effective.

However, the Court in Strasburg highlighted the fact that the investigation had already been interrupted six times, which made it extremely difficult to identify the culprits and to hold them accountable. After several years, the family of the abducted man finally received the verdict from Strasbourg: the Russian side was to pay 60,000 EUR in compensation for breaking several articles of European Convention on Human Rights that had taken place during Ramazan’s detention, as well as over the course of the investigation of his disappearance.

Before Ramazan Umarov’s disappearance in 2007, he was detained by the police, together with two other men, in his apartment in Dagestan’s capital city, Makhachkala. All three of them were turned over to Dagestan’s Department for Combating Organized Crime. Investigations were launched against two of the men, but Umarov disappeared without a trace. After Ramazan’s disappearance, his family feared that it would be a repetition of the same incident that had happened in 2005 when Ramazan was arrested, tortured and eventually released. According to the testimony, his detention at the time happened in such a way that they threw a hood over his head and took him to the examination room, where a pistol and three bullets were planted on him.

Afterwards, he was detained for three months in a holding cell, where he was beaten and tortured, so that he would confess to offences that he did not commit. After one year, Ramazan was fully acquitted by the court and the High Court upheld the acquittal in its entirety. About ten days after Ramazan’s disappearance, unknown people started calling Ramazan’s father. They also put the kidnapped Ramazan on the phone, so that he could quietly whisper to his family instructions that were dictated to him by his kidnappers. For a few days, the Umarov family was being offered meetings in various Chechen cities. Ramazan’s father went to some of those places. However, he did not succeed in finding the unknown people. According to the Strasbourg Court the Russian government had breached an Article of the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. As the court stated, the respective authorities should have proceeded with better care and in a more expeditious manner. Furthermore, Umarov’s unlawful arrest was a violation of the right to liberty and personal safety.

On August 22, 2013, Omar Valibagandov left by car for his former workplace in order to collect some money. After he did not return home and did not answer his phone, Omar’s relatives started to search for him. Yet, it was all to no avail. They filed a report about his disappearance to the police on that very day. The following day they learned from unofficial sources that Omar was in a public hospital in the Dagestan town of Izerbash.

On August 24, they set out to go there. From hospital records they learned that Omar had been admitted to the hospital on August 23 with cuts, bruises, contusions and evidence of electrical shocks. According to the doctors, Omar had been given the help he needed and, allegedly, the police came to the hospital about an hour later and took Omar to an unknown location.The family was unable to get the recording of the hospital camera. There are testimonies available that say that the hospital was visited by the local chief of the police Ruslan Daudov himself. There are also camera recordings that show unknown men manipulating with the car in which Omar had left his home. The investigation of Valibagandov’s case was only initiated after an intervention by the Russian ombudsman, but without any result to this day. Omar was a follower of a Sufi branch of Islam, which the Russian administration considers to be a breeding ground of terrorism.

According to the testimony of the doctor of the emergency services, on August 23 at 6:08 am the rescue team received a phone call from the police station in the village of Karabudachkent saying that there was an injured man, who was under the protection of the Federal Security Services in the village of Achi-Su. Doctor Sharapov and her team left for the stated location. In the arranged place, the doctor took over the care of Omar, who was wrapped in blankets and handcuffed. Based on what the doctor said, Omar had multiple injuries on his head and over his entire body. She gave him an injection to reduce his pain and, accompanied by the security service workers, she took him to the hospital. When they were approaching the hospital, they could see that it had been surrounded by the police. The hospital staff stated that Omar had suffered a gunshot wound to his left thigh and that he had bruises on his lower limbs and in the buttocks area. The doctors removed a rubber bullet from the wound. In compliance with standard procedure, the hospital notified the local police about a patient with a gunshot wound having been admitted.

A group of policemen came to the hospital to interrogate Omar. Based on police documentation, Omar offered the police a strange story about him taking a walk on a beach in Izerbash and finding a rubber bullet pistol on the ground. Supposedly while looking at it, the pistol accidently fired and injured his leg. Then he crawled to a road, stopped a car and asked the people in the car to take him to a hospital. He signed off on this story as well as the statement that he was leaving the hospital alone and on his own accord. Afterwards, the police took him away from the hospital. There is a text message sent out from Omar’s phone. The message was supposed to create an impression that it had already been sent on August 22 to one of Omar’s friends. He gave instructions in it as to where he was leaving his car, which was not his; he also said that the keys were on the radiator and that he was having some troubles and was going to lay low for some time. It is most likely that the message was not written by Omar, since he was already probably in the hands of unknown members of security forces at that time. This is even clearer since a street camera showed that the car was parked by somebody else and that someone else had put the keys on the radiator.

Umar Israilov most likely paid with his life for giving evidence about the cruel acts perpetrated by the so-called Kadyrovtsy – troops directly subordinate to Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov. As Umar Israilov had been a member of Kadyrov’s security forces for a brief period of time, he was an ‘insider’. He was assassinated on January 13, 2009 in Vienna in broad daylight. In 2010, an Austrian court sentenced the three perpetrators, to 16 and 19 years in prison, and the third to life imprisonment. The prosecution mentioned Ramzan Kadyrov as a person directly connected to the assassins.

When the first Chechen war broke out, Umar was thirteen years old. During the second war, he joined the rebels. In 2003, he was captured by the Kadyrovtsy – who by that time had already become adherents to Kremlin’s politics. After being tortured for some time, he joined them in order to save his own life.

In 2004, Umar and his wife left Russia and obtained political asylum in Europe. In response to this, the security forces detained his father. They detained him for ten months hoping they would force Umar to return. The old man was tortured and was a witness to the torture of others. Eventually, however, he was lucky enough to be released – or more precisely thrown out of a car outside of his home some twenty kilos lighter.

The Russian prosecutors later demanded that he make a statement that he fabricated the story about being tortured for ten months because he had wanted to spend time with his mistress. Both the father and son filed complaints in 2006 with the European Court of Human Rights. Since the court had no information as to their whereabouts, it could not proceed further with their examinations and did not open the cases. Umar provided a lot of details and materials to the New York Times, which focused on the topic of cruel acts of the Kadyrovtsy.

At the beginning of the Chechen war in 1995 Umar was herding cows near the Chechen area of Mesker-Yurt when he heard an artillery attack. After he got home, he found his mother’s body torn into pieces by shrapnel. He was thirteen and his heart was hardened. According to the New York Times »Umar always insisted that he had never been in combat or committed violence.

However, such claims are common among former fighters«. In Umar’s own words, in 2003 when he was caught and captured by the Kadyrovtsy, he was victim to a number of violent acts in a former gym that had been turned into a torture chamber. When the Kadyrovtsy did not succeed in forcing him to admit to various crimes that he had not committed, they brought him into a former sauna where Kadyrov himself presented him with a choice: to accept a pistol and join the Kadyrovtsy which meant he would live. When he was later asked by journalists why he did not turn the pistol against the men who had tortured him, Umar replied: »Because I wanted to survive«.

In an interview with The New York Times in the autumn of 2008, Umar talked about the practices of the Kadyrovtsy. He mentioned, for example, the fact that Kadyrov admired devices used for administering electrical shocks. While watching these devices at work, Kadyrov was known to say: »That is really something!« He also spoke about men being sodomized with various objects. He also said that Kadyrov had a motto: »The best way to get the rebels out of the forest is to do it through their families«. Umar described having seen a lot of innocent and unlawfully detained people; some who were rebels, but also relatives of someone who had had some relation to the rebels. »You feel like your muscles are going to explode« said Umar about the electrical shocks.
Israilov was attacked in Vienna, not far from his apartment when he had stepped out around midday to buy yogurt, leaving his three children at home. Most likely Umar saw the attacker and started to run. Over a few minutes, he was struck by several bullets and he died soon after.

In February 2014, Ruslan Kutayev, an active human rights defender, a fighter for better Chechen-Russian relations, and an upstanding man in his fifties, was thrown in jail for alleged drug possession. This happened after he organized a conference on the seventieth anniversary of Stalin’s deportation of the Caucasian peoples. Ramzan Kadyrov did not approve of the event taking place. After the conference, Magomed Daudov, the chief of Kadyrov’s presidential office better known as »Lord«, invited all of the organizers to a meeting with the president. Ruslan challenged the request from Daudov. He was arrested the following day, on February 20, 2014.

According to the official version, security forces randomly stopped him in the village of Gekhi. During a body search, they found that Kutayev, who is a teetotaler and non-smoker, was carrying three grams of heroin in his back pocket. During his detention he was tortured and forced to confess. Kutayev was at risk of being sentenced to 12 years in prison. On July 7, 2014, he was sentenced to four years in prison. Kutayev and many human rights defenders like him in Russia are convinced that his case is part of the Russian government’s current tendency to discredit opposition politicians, human rights defenders and activists.

On February 19, Ruslan Kutayev received a call from Magomed Daudov, the head of the presidential office, an influential Chechen politician, and member of president Ramzan Kadyrov’s inner circle. Kutayev refused to meet with the president. In the morning of February 20, Ruslan phoned everyone he was close to. His wife told him over the phone that their house, where he had left from, was under constant surveillance by the police. Kutayev was staying with distant relatives in the village of Gekhi. Because he anticipated that his phone was bugged, he made a point of repeating during his telephone conversations that he was in Pyatigorsk outside of Chechnya’s borders. However, around two in the afternoon he was arrested in the village of Gekhi. According to Kutayev’s testimony, the Deputy Minister of Interior of Chechnya, Apti Alaudinov, and the Head of the Presidential Office Magomed Daudov, also known as Lord, played an active role in his torture. They kept Kutayev naked in a cellar, placed an axe on his neck while shocking him with an electric current. He was also tortured with an electric baton. He lost consciousness several times during the torture. He suffered a concussion and extensive bruising, along with injuries to his ribs and jaw. They showed him photographs of his nephews. From the up-to-date nature of the pictures, he was supposed to understand that his family was being constantly monitored.

»The physical pain has subsided and my wounds are healing, but knowing that the government uses the state security forces for such things, to fight with politicians, civil society activists and human rights defenders, fills me with horror that they will face similar processes. I want to remind everyone that no matter how long the night lasts, it cannot last forever and dawn will break one day.« said Kutayev during his closing arguments before the court on May 7, 2014.

In May 2014, Suleiman Edigov was sentenced to fourteen and a half years in prison for the attempted murder of a police officer and the unlawful use of a weapon. Suleiman insists that he is not guilty, claiming that the security forces used torture to make him confess. Suleiman’s case has no precedent in the Russian legal system. In November 2013, during the trial, Judge Vakhid Abubakarov recused himself, saying that Edigov had been forced to make a confession by the Minister of Interior of the Chechen Republic and therefore his verdict could not be impartial.Edigov had not been residing in Chechnya since 2009. In August 2012, he came home to sell his car. On August 3, in front of many witnesses, he was driven away by masked men and held at the county police department until September 12, when, according to official records, he is supposed to have been detained. During this time he was forced to confess with the use of torture. The confession served as the only piece of evidence of his guilt, for which he was given 14 and a half years in prison.

There is still a pending appeal to the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. The fourteen-year prison sentence was then ordered by a different judge. Judge Abubakarov, however, had gathered enough evidence already in 2012, which showed that during his forty-day illegal detention, Suleiman Edigov had been tortured with electric shock. His fingers had been wrapped in aluminum wires that carried an electric current, which caused Suleiman to have festering wounds on his hands and around his fingers.

Suleiman had not been continuously residing in Chechnya during the two wars. He returned after the end of the second war and got a job with the security forces. He had this job between 2008 and 2009, at which point he moved to Sweden. From there he went into trading in used cars. In his words, he had left Chechnya because he was constantly being harassed by Timur Isayev who urged him to join the rebels. Isayev did not stop pestering him by telephone in Sweden, but Suleiman resisted taking him up on these offers.
During more than a month in captivity, his jailers wrapped Suleiman’s fingers in aluminum wires that were connected to an electric current. When the wounds began to fester, they called for the local morgue worker, who was a trained nurse, to take care of it. She treated the wounds and they healed.

However, the scars have remained. There is unusually extensive evidence in Suleiman’s case, yet prosecution for his case has not been initiated. »The man, who introduced himself as Minister of Interior of the Chechen Republic, Ruslan Alkhanov, and whose number was not displayed whenever he called me on my mobile phone, told me that, based on confidential sources, the defendant Edigov had committed the crimes with which he was being charged. And he warned me against acquitting him,« said judge Abubakarov.

»Despotism and unlimited power of the security forces in Chechnya, it seems, is of concern not only for ordinary people, but also for members of the judiciary.« Edigov could hear the new judge’s verdict sentencing him to 14 and a half years of imprisonment from the stretcher on which he was brought to the courtroom. The reason was that fourteen days before the verdict he began a hunger strike. »Based on the precedents of the European Court of Human Rights, evidence acquired through use of violence falls into the category of false evidence. The use of such evidence is indicative of an unfair trial,« said lawyer Anton Ryzhov from the Committee against Torture about this case.

During the investigation into the disappearance of Said-Saleh, both the witnesses and people affected in this case were subjected to coercion. The investigating officer threatened the kidnapped young man’s mother saying to her that if she were to give the true account of what happened, she would put the whole family in danger. It seems that the kidnapped Said-Saleh knew that three insurgents were hiding overnight at the family’s estate in the village of Goity.

The following day, October 21, 2009, two of the men in hiding died during a special operation carried out by security forces. They were killed by members of the so-called Oil Regiment as well as other security forces. The third insurgent escaped. One policeman died during the operation. Said-Saleh, who knew about the insurgents’ hiding place, was caught on a street in Grozny and was turned over to the Oil Regiment. Also Said-Saleh’s uncle Adnan was made to show up at the regiment’s base.

It was in the office of the regiment commander, Sharip Delimkhanov , that his uncle Adnan managed to see Said-Saleh for the last time. The investigators later indicated that uncle Adnan’s testimony about what he had seen in Delimkhanov ’s office would create serious problems for the family. The whereabouts of Said-Saleh are unknown. Despite this, the investigation was postponed on April 3, 2010, since »it was impossible to determine the culprits«. The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg acknowledged that Russia was responsible for such an ineffective investigation and that in the case of Said-Saleh’s kidnapping several human rights agreements had been breached.

Said-Saleh’s mother Raisa and his uncle Adnan said that as soon as they arrived home, they were surrounded by people in uniforms. Adnan was shown a dead body of a young man while he was told that this man was an insurgent who had been hiding in the attic of their house since October 20th. When Raisa and Adnan were taken to the police station for questioning, only the roof was on fire. By the time that they returned at 9 pm, two out of their three buildings had burned down. According to witnesses, the firemen who arrived at the scene did nothing.

After Said-Saleh found out about the military operation happening at their house through a phone call from his cousin during the day, he left to stay with his relatives in Grozny. There, he explained to his other cousin why he had allowed the insurgents to hide in their house: »What would you do if you were in my shoes? If they were aiming a gun at you while saying that unless I let them stay overnight they were going to kill all the women in the house as well as me?«

At around 11pm the investigator called uncle Adnan telling him to come back again quickly to the police station. Adnan was then seated in the office of the Oil Regiment commander Sherip Delimkhanov. Said-Saleh was also brought in, looking terrified. His face had blood and bruises all over it. The police officers claimed that their colleague had been killed in Said-Saleh’s house and in accordance with the customs he must be avenged. Based on Adnan’s testimony, they said they would kill Said-Saleh. Later on, they said they would not kill him if he helped them find the fighter who escaped into hiding. The investigator threatened Said-Saleh’s mother saying that she should not file a criminal complaint because of her son’s disappearance.

»If you file a criminal complaint, you will be killed and all your relatives in the house will be burned to death«, he said to the mother. Adnan was allegedly told that he would feel sorry later on if he insisted on receiving the investigation records, including the information that both Adnan and Said-Saleh had been taken to Oil Regiment’s premises. Afterwards, both Adnan and Raisa did not request the official protocol, which included the information that Said-Saleh had been taken to the Oil Regiment’s premises.

In 2009, the Askhabov family lost their son Abdul-Yezit, he disappeared without a trace. The Askhabovs probably found themselves in the sights of the Chechen security forces because of the wartime past of their other son, Yusup, who fought against federal troops during the Second Chechen War (1999-2000). After the war he did not report to the armed groups, but he also didn’t live with his family at their permanent address.

On May 28, 2009, Yusup was killed during a special operation in the center of the Chechen town of Shali. His father had to come there to identify the body. According to his testimony, masked men beat him up over the corpse of his son, the first blow was from the then chief of the local police in Shali Magomed Daudov, who also went by the nickname »Lord«. Later that summer, on August 5, masked men arrived at the Askhabov home at 3 o’clock in the morning. They introduced themselves as being from the Federal Security Service and took Abdul-Yezit away to an unknown location.

Later, the family learned that Abdul-Yezit was most likely being held at the police station in Shali. Abdul-Yezit is missing to this day. The investigation into his disappearance has been stopped, »because it was not possible to determine the culprits«. The former police chief from Shali has since then become the Chief of the Administration of Ramzan Kadyrov.

»When I saw my slain son, I said to myself in Chechen: how will Allah receive him. When Magomed Daudov heard these words, he came to me and struck me in the face. At the same time, other men threw me down and started kicking me and beating me with their rifle butts. They beat me terribly, almost to death. I lost consciousness almost immediately, I do not remember anything. I was allegedly grabbed from the site by unknown people and taken to the hospital. I had suffered two heart attacks,« said the father of the Aschabov family about what happened that day.

»On the very day that Yusup’s corpse was brought to us, they dragged it around the yard and mocked it. They beat my two daughters, Ayshat and Nurzat with the butts of their rifles. I attempted to get out of the house, but they hit me again with the butt of a rifle. Afterward they loaded Yusup’s body and drove off without giving it to us so that we couldn’t bury him. I still don’t know what they did with him.« the father of the Askhabov family told human rights defenders about the behavior of the police.

On the night of August 5, 2009, Abdul-Yezit was taken away from him home in a car without license plates. The family immediately reported the abduction of their son to the relevant authorities. In late September, the Askhabovs approached human rights defenders from the Russian organization Memorial. According to his mother Tamara, Abdul-Yezit had never held a gun in his hands. Since childhood he was visually impaired and had a second-degree disability. On August 7, 2009, Tamara set off with relatives to the Grozny office of the ombudsman. A staffer received them and immediately called the police in Shali. They heard him speak to someone and he insisted that Abdul-Yezit be released from detention. He then went on to say: »Even if he was the brother of an insurgent leader, you have no right to detain him beyond the period specified under the law.« From this encounter Tamara Askhabova understood that Abdul-Yezit was in Shali.

The investigation into the disappearance of Zarema Gaysanova is an example of the Russian investigating authorities’ inaction and sabotage. During the investigation of this crime – in which state representatives were involved – evidence was falsified and the falsifiers have gone unpunished. Zarema, a Chechen, was 40 years old and was working in neighboring Ingushetia for the Danish Refugee Council, a humanitarian organization that helps refugees.

She returned home to the Chechen office in Grozny on October 31, 2009 and wanted to spend the night in an otherwise uninhabited family house. That day, Zarema was kidnapped during a special intervention, which was carried out by armed forces against insurgents on her property. The operation was ordered by the Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov himself. During the operation masked men loaded Zarema in an SUV and took her to an unknown location. Since then, her family has been unable to learn anything about her fate.

The date appearing on the notice of Zarema’s disappearance, according to evidence from human rights defenders, was manipulated. The European Court of Human Rights is looking into the inconsistent investigation of the case. Zarema’s mother, Lida Gaysanova, has filed a lawsuit against the Russian state with the court.

Special intervention, which was carried out by the armed forces on Gaysanova’s property, was ordered, as he later admitted himself, by the Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov. One evening when Zarema’s mother Lida was watching TV, she saw coverage of her family’s house burning in Grozny. According to the Ministry of the Interior, the insurgent Ali Chasanov had been discovered in the house – number 7 Darwin Street. A neighbor also called Lida to inform her that Zarena had been taken away to an unknown location.

Later in an interview, Ramzan Kadyrov told the human rights defender Igor Kalyapin from the Committee Against Torture that he ordered the operation and that Zarema had been detained, but was released soon after. Investigating authorities did not even want to open criminal proceedings over the falsification of evidence, which human rights defenders had revealed in the criminal case file. The date used for the filing of the notice of Zarema’s disappearance had obviously been manipulated by someone. The case to initiate criminal proceedings over the falsification of evidence was dismissed in June 2010. The documentation for Zarena’s story includes the sentence »It isn’t possible to interrogate R. A. Kadyrov, due to the fact that he is overloaded with work.«

Human rights defender Natalia Estemirova was abducted according to eyewitnesses on July 15, 2009 near her home in Grozny. Later that day, her body was discovered with several gunshot wounds to the head in the village of Gazi-Yurt in Ingushetia. Her death has brought grief to her loved ones, colleagues and many others, for whom she was often the only hope of finding out the truth.She was originally a history teacher from a Chechen-Russian family in Grozny, but began working as a journalist during the first Chechen War. She brought to light many stories about the war, about hundreds of its victims, and especially about children. Since the beginning of the second Chechen War, she cooperated with the Russian human rights organization Memorial, focusing on the kidnappings and murders of Chechen civilians.

Estemirova’s work was »inconvenient« for Ramzan Kadyrov who repeatedly threatened her. In 2008, feeling uncomfortable after one of these conversations, she made a decision to spend several months abroad for safety reasons. In the fall of 2008, she returned to Chechnya and resumed her human rights activities. Neither her loved ones nor colleagues have any doubt that she was murdered. And as it happened in the majority of similar cases, her killer has gone unpunished, as has the person who ordered the hit.
War photographer Dmitri Belyakov has said of Estemirova that she was an invaluable source of information. »She never cheated; she never claimed something that would suit her interests to be the truth. Besides, she had a very humane approach…. It is such a loss. It is hard to live with the fact that the person responsible for her death has not been punished.«

Natalia Estemirova met with Kadyrov on March 31, 2008 and he was extremely unpleasant to her. He reprimanded Natalia, saying that her behavior was unacceptable and he also asked her: »Why are you doing these things? Don’t you have a daughter, aren’t you afraid for her sake?« said Tatyana Loksina, from the Russian branch of Human Rights Watch, when she spoke in court about the relationship Natalia had with Kadyrov. After this conversation with Kadyrov, Natalia took advantage of the offer to hide abroad for a while for the second time in her life. Estemirova was abducted close to her home in the morning. Her colleagues began to worry when she didn’t show up for a previously arranged meeting and set out to look for her at her place of residence. There, they questioned two witnesses who saw the incident from a balcony. They said that she only managed to scream out that they were taking her against her will.

»I am a total pacifist. I am against war in any form, unconditionally. Pacifism isn’t in vogue with us. Nor is the defense of human rights, but that doesn’t mean that the situation is hopeless. I am saying, again, that many times during my work, it was words that worked, all the more powerfully when voices of journalists from various publications from different countries were unified.« Natalia Estemirova

Sapiyat decided to devote her life to advocacy. She has been working in Dagestan under difficult conditions to defend the rights and ensure rightful legal procedures for all of her clients. Often, these are very sensitive cases that other lawyers refused to take on, out of fear for their own safety. During her legal work she has witnessed a multitude of illegal activity which went unpunished. Sapiyat has criticized the connections between politicians and the armed forces to armed groups. According to Sapiyat, corruption is the most pressing problem for state authorities and institutions. She believes that in places where there is corruption, instruments of power are unable to ensure respect for human rights. Criminal activity that goes unpunished only generates more crimes.

This slender, young lawyer has herself been the victim of violence that has not been punished. In 2010, Sapiyat was beaten by police officers when she came to visit a client, who was being detained. After sustaining a concussion and other injuries, Sapiyat spent three months in the hospital with broken ribs and internal injuries. At the time when the police were looking into Sapiyat’s legal complaint about the violent actions of the police, the police officers simultaneously filed a complaint claiming it was Sapiyat who had physically attacked them. The investigation into both of the cases were terminated due to the fact that it was impossible to determine who had beaten whom. Sapiyat has appealed to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Sapiyat says that she fears for her life just as anyone else in her position might. She has won several international awards for her courageous work – which, besides being a motivation to keep working, also provides some guarantee of safety.

Sapiyat Magomedova was already somewhat of a rebel in college. She never gave bribes to sit for any of her exams, as was the custom at the faculty. She assumed the same honest approach in her first workplace at the City Collegium of Lawyers in Makhachkala. Her engagement there resulted in a number of complaints filed against a judge for prolonging a process and inciting Sapiyat’s older colleagues against her.

In 2010, Sapiyat was beaten at a police station when visiting a client. Afterwards, she was thrown out on to the street. According to Sapiyat, a number of the injuries were very painful. Sapiyat Magomedova is convinced that her parents died of grief because of what was happening around their daughter. Her mother died shortly after Sapiyat came round from surgery after being attacked by the police. Sapiyat is determined to keep fighting in the name of justice. In 2014, Sapiyat received People in Need’s Homo Homini Award for the defense of human rights. In her speech, she said, among other things, that »human rights simply cannot be violated like this, with impunity. The level of corruption in our country is directly contingent on what we have achieved in the area of human rights, and silence is exactly what is needed for the absolute triumph of corruption.