Memorial Human Rights Centre: Salman Tepsurkaev, who was abducted, is a political prisoner

7 April 2021

Salman Tepsurkaev, a 19-year-old moderator of the oppositionist Telegram channel 1ADAT that reported on human rights violations in Chechnya, was abducted in early September 2020

Source: Memorial Human Rights Centre

Memorial Human Rights Centre considers Salman Tepsurkaev a political prisoner in accordance with international guidelines.

We have reason to believe that after his abduction he was taken to Chechnya where he was forcibly detained and subjected to degrading treatment. We believe the security agencies of the Chechen Republic were involved in the abduction and subsequent imprisonment of Salman Tepsurkaev and that his abduction was part of a campaign by the Chechen authorities against dissident voices.

The persecution of Salman Tepsurkaev, which has been intended to force him to end his public criticism of the authorities, violates his right to personal freedom and security, as well as his freedom of expression, including on social and political issues.

Until we know what happened to Tepsurkaev and the exact circumstances of his abduction, we believe he is alive. Memorial Human Rights Centre believes Tepsurkaev is being illegally detained by Chechen authorities and that the video footage of him was made as a result of intimidation or torture.

We demand that the whereabouts of Salman Tepsurkaev be made public, that his abduction and torture be investigated and that those involved in the crimes committed against him be brought to justice.

What happened to Salman Tepsurkaev?

The 1ADAT Telegram channel, created in March 2020 by people from Chechnya who had emigrated from Russia, describes itself as a ‘people’s movement against Kadyrov’s dictatorship.’ The channel publishes information about abductions, detentions, corruption and other unlawful actions by Chechen security agencies and officials.

Salman Tepsurkaev published content on the channel and sometimes, according to its administrators, acted as a moderator. He lived in Gelendzhik and worked in a local hotel. He kept his connection with 1ADAT a secret. At the end of May the Chechen authorities organised a hunt for the channel’s administrators and subscribers.

On 6 September 2020 Tepsurkaev disappeared from the hotel in Gelendzhik and he could not be reached on his phone. The next day one of the channel’s users, who had previously been in touch with Salman, published a video on the channel in which Tepsurkaev, naked and kneeling, says in Chechen that 1ADAT is ‘a very bad channel that complains about the authorities.’ In the video Tepsurkaev calls himself ‘scum’ who was abandoned by his father and insults his mother. He then sits on the bottle, saying that he is punishing himself in this way and passes the baton to other administrators and subscribers of the channel. After that, a number of other videos were published in which Tepsurkaev continued to criticise Chechen opposition activists and curse himself. His whereabouts remain unknown.

Why do we believe the authorities were involved in Tepsurkaev’s abduction?

The day after Tepsurkaev’s abduction his relatives discovered that his phone had been switched on briefly. When they managed to obtain his geolocation, it turned out he was on the premises of the Akhmat Kadyrov Police Patrol Service Regiment in Grozny. However, when the family went there, they were told Tepsurkaev was not there. The Grozny Investigative Department, where the relatives took their complaint, said if they kept quiet Salman Tepsurkaev would return home in a week. A few days later a Grozny TV channel broadcast a speech by Salman Tepsurkaev’s father in which he rejected his son and accused him of bad behaviour

Lawyers from the Committee Aagainst Torture conducted an investigation in Gelendzhik, obtaining video footage of the abduction and witness testimony. They established that Tepsurkaev was abducted directly from his place of work. One of the abductors showed hotel staff a police officer’s ID card and one of the two cars involved in the abduction belonged to a Chechen police officer. Administrators of the 1ADAT channel have concluded that Tepsurkaev’s location was identified with the help of one of the channel’s users, a provocateur who had offered Tepsurkaev money. Obtaining such data would have been impossible without access to Tepsurkaev’s detailed phone billings, which, in turn, are available only to law enforcement.

The premises of the Akhmad Kadyrov Regiment in Grozny is known as a place where Chechen residents who have been abducted have been held in the past and where even extrajudicial executions have taken place.

Many Chechen officials approvingly commented on Salman Tepsurkaev’s ‘punishment,’ hinting they knew who was behind it.

Further information about the case of Salman Tepsurkaev and more detail about our position is available on the website of Memorial Human Rights Centre.

Recognition of an individual as a political prisoner or as a victim of politically motivated prosecution does not imply Memorial Human Rights Centre agrees with, or approves of, their views, statements, or actions.

Translated by Simon Cosgrove

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