Committee Against Torture: European Court of Human Rights takes up case of unexplained disappearnce of Chechnya resident Movsar Umarov

16 September 2020

Source: Committee Against Torture

Yesterday, 15 September 2020, lawyers from the Committee against Torture were informed by the European Court of Human Rights that the Court was looking into the possibility of enforcing Rule 39 to ensure the safety of Chechnya resident Movsar Umarov. Apart from everything else, the ECtHR has requested information from the Russian government about the reasons why Umarov came to be detained by the Chechen Republic’s law enforcement agencies.

On 4 September 2020, relatives of Chechen Republic resident Movsar Umarov asked the Committee against Torture to help them establish his whereabouts. As they recounted, Movsar was detained on 18 July by law enforcement officers and taken to the Leninsky Police Station in Grozny (another Committee against Torture declarant, Timur Debishev, has spoken previously about torture at this police station– author’s note). The day after the arrest, officers from the Leninsky Police Station informed his relatives that Umarov had been transferred to the Official Federal Extradepartmental Protection Administration of the National Guard of the Chechen Republic (commonly referred to as Neftepolk [The Oil Regiment] – author’s note). When they asked the reasons for his arrest, they were told that Movsar had not done anything bad and in about a week they would call in his paternal relatives and his mullah, have an educational talk, and release him. Throughout Movsar’s time at Neftepolk, his wife and mother brought him food, but they were not allowed to see him until as late as 7 August.

On the evening of 7 August, Umarov’s relatives were asked to come to the Neftepolk immediately. When they arrived, they were taken inside and led into an unmarked office. Movsar was there along with 7-10 officers. One of them was called Dzhabrail. Later, Movsar Umarov’s brother, who was present at that meeting, identified this person thanks to photographs placed on the Internet as Magomed Baituev, an aide to the head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov. Umarov did not have any visible bodily injuries. According to Movsar’s mother, they demanded he give testimony necessary to catch two “shaitans” [devils] from Ingushetia and Dagestan, otherwise he was threatened with 15-20 years’ imprisonment. After this meeting between Movsar and his relatives, he was occasionally allowed to use the telephone to contact them. He called his wife a few times and on 10 August told her they should be releasing him. The last news from him came on the evening of 11 August: “I’m in a meeting.”  Movsar did not contact either his wife or any of his relatives after that.

On 18 August, Umarov’s relatives were again summoned to Neftepolk. Present, once again, was the man who introduced himself as Dzhabrail, who informed them that Movsar had supposedly run away from the police during the arrest of a suspect in Ingushetia. Movsar’s brother asked “Dzhabrail” why, in that case, they hadn’t declared him wanted, if he’d run away while under the control of law enforcement agencies. To which “Dzhabrail” shrugged and said he didn’t understand it.

On 14 September, lawyers from the Committee against Torture sent the European Court of Human Rights a complaint about the violation of Movsar Umarov’s rights, as provided for by Articles 3 and 5 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms: the prohibition and the right to security of person. Human rights activists asked the Court to enforce Rule 39 and demand that the Russian Federation take measures to ensure the establishment of Umarov’s whereabouts and also to guarantee his release and safety. 

Yesterday, the ECtHR asked the Russian authorities questions about whether Movsar had been taken to the Leninsky Police Station and Neftepolk and on what grounds, where he was right now, what steps Russian law enforcement agencies had taken to establish the facts of this incident, whether Movsar had been subjected to torture, and whether he had had the opportunity to see his relatives and lawyer. The Russian government has until 25 September to answer the questions posed.

“We hope that we and Movsar’s relatives still have a chance to see him alive, – says Dmitry Piskunov, director of the North Caucasus branch of the Committee against Torture. “The law enforcement agencies have been aware of this situation since 26 August, when his relatives went to the regional prosecutor’s office. However, as yet the investigation has not taken any steps whatsoever to establish his whereabouts, as far as we know. In our view, the European Court’s intervention is one of the few instruments we still have to ensure Umarov’s safety, if, of course, he is still alive.”

Translated by Marian Schwartz

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