8 April 2021
Source: Moscow Helsinki Group
On 7th April 2021, the Supreme Court of Chechnya ordered the case concerning Ramzan Kadyrov’s public threats to human rights defenders and journalists to considered anew. Human rights activists believe that a reconsideration of the complaints against investigators who refused to investigate threats made by Ramzan Kadyrov does not guarantee that the statements of the head of the republic himself will be investigated.
According to Dmitry Makarov, a member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, the Chechen Supreme Court’s decision is correct, but he is not overjoyed by it. In an interview with the Kavkazky Uzel (Caucasian Knot) correspondent he said, “The decision of the Supreme Court says that the Investigative Committee should nevertheless consider the application to launch a criminal investigation. However, I would not attach great importance to this decision because in this case the court indicates to the investigators their procedural responsibilities. There is no real hope that Kadyrov’s statements will be investigated. But this does not mean that the Investigative Committee should not conduct a review of the complaints.”
Makarov notes that attacks on critics of the Chechen authorities have become more frequent. “I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it was precisely after Kadyrov’s statements, but news of attacks on Kadyrov’s critics have become commonplace. Obviously, this is part of the Chechen trend of suppressing criticism and dissent,” the human rights activist said. On April 7th, the court heard the arguments of human rights defenders and their lawyer. It then decided to cancel the Staropromyslov district court’s decision, lawyer Mikhail Benyash told the Kavkazky Uzel correspondent.
“The court listened to my arguments and the arguments of Oleg Orlov (a Memorial Human Rights Centre board member) and Aleksandr Cherkasov (chair of the board of Memorial Human Rights Centre). In addition, the prosecutor asked the court to approve our complaint, agreeing with the arguments set out. After that, the judge left for the deliberation room and decided to cancel the decision of the Staropromyslovsky district court,” Benyash said. He noted that he was satisfied with the court’s decision. “This is a legal decision […] There is no date for the consideration of the case yet, but, in practice, it should take place within a month,” the lawyer explained.
Oleg Orlov also said that he was pleased with the decision of the Chechen Supreme Court. “For all of us, it was quite unexpected. In fact, this is the only decision that the court could make within the framework of the law. But we know of a large number of illegal decisions of the Chechen courts. Today (April 7) it was quite pleasant to watch the passing of a legal decision. But we must understand that this is only the beginning. There is a lot of work ahead. The court of first instance will consider the case again, then, if we win, work will begin on interaction with the Investigative Committee within the framework of the pre-investigation assessment” the human rights activist told the Kavkazky Uzel correspondent.#
He pointed out that it is hard to believe that a criminal investigation will be opened. “We have proved that it is wrong to refuse to check the details of the matter after receiving a complaint. Furthermore, we will also methodically and consistently prove that it is unlawful to refuse to launch a criminal case […] It is very important to act – we are showing society the illegality of our opponents’ position.” – emphasized Orlov.
In his opinion, the words of Kadyrov on 4 November 2019 were followed by deeds – attacks by Chechen security forces on critics of the regime in Chechnya. According to Orlov, “That is exactly the point I made in court. It was only after these words were uttered that we saw the attacks on Milashina and Dubrovina in Grozny, the attempted murders of Tumso Abdurakhmanov and Musa Lomaev, and the kidnapping and alleged murder of Salman Tepsurkayev. And that is by no means an exhaustive list of everything that happened after Ramzan Kadyrov said what he said.”
On 6 February 2020, in a hotel in Grozny, a group of men and women attacked Elena Milashina (a journalist for the newspaper Novaya Gazeta) and Marina Dubrovina (a lawyer from Krasnodar). In March 2020, Milashina complained about the delays in investigating this incident.
The Sweden-based blogger Tumso Abdurakhmanov was attacked on 26 February 2020, but managed to fight off the intruder, who was armed with a hammer. After analysing the evidence, the Memorial Human Rights Centre concluded that the individual behind the attack had links to the inner circle of Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya’s head of state. On 11 January, a Swedish court found the Russian nationals Ruslan Mamayev and Elmira Shapiayeva guilty of involvement in the attack on Abdurakhmanov. On 1 April, a Swedish Court of Appeal found that the outcomes of the investigation did not allow any conclusions to be drawn regarding a link between the attack and the Chechen leadership; according to the blogger, an appeal will be lodged against this decision.
On 10 September 2020, an individual was detained on suspicion of planning an attack on the Chechen blogger Musa Lomaev. The blogger was placed under protection by law enforcement officials, and became less active on his YouTube channel (on which he criticises the Chechen authorities).
In September 2020, a video on which a naked Salman Tepsurkayev sits on a bottle, explaining that he is doing so as a punishment for working together with the Telegram channel 1Adat (which is critical of the Chechen authorities) provoked a great deal of media attention in Chechnya and beyond its borders. There has been no further communication between Tepsurkayev and his family. Human rights activists subsequently managed to obtain a response from investigators to the reports by family members (including his wife) who believe that Tepsurkayev has been kidnapped. On 7 April the Memorial Human Rights Centre announced that Tepsurkayev was victim of a campaign to persecute dissidents in Chechnya and a political prisoner.
On 22 November 2020, the Memorial Human Rights Centre and the Moscow Helsinki Group forwarded to the Chairman of Russia’s Investigative Committee, Aleksandr Bastrykin, a letter stating that Ramzan Kadyrov’s calls for murder undermine the credibility of the authorities, and might be perceived by the subjects of Chechnya’s head of state as an incitement to action. The investigators refused to issue a decision in response to these statements; on 15 January, the Staropromyslovsky District Court of Grozny rejected a complaint concerning the lack of action on the part of the investigators, who had failed to make any findings. On 8 February an appeal was lodged before the Supreme Court of Chechnya, which on 7 April decided to re-examine the complaint brought by the human rights activists against the investigators.
On 4 November 2019, Ramzan Kadyrov – at a meeting with the Chechen Government – demanded punishment for anyone criticising the Republic of Chechnya and any social media users posting comments in response. According to one translator, Ramzan Kadyrov said the following; “Those who spread dissension and gossip – if they are not killed, if they are not imprisoned, if they are not stopped – it’s not good enough.” According to a different translator, he said, “And if we do not kill, imprison and scare those who disseminate all of this, they will not stop” (both in an article on the website “Caucasian Knot” entitled “We are not cannibals: what Kadyrov actually said”). Kadyrov attempted to justify himself at a later date by explaining that his death threats were not intended to be taken literally.