15 March 2021
By Elena Milashina, a journalist at Novaya gazeta, laureate of the Moscow Helsinki Group Prize
Kadyrov Regiment Senior Sergeant Suleyman Gezmakhmayev speaks out for the first time about the extrajudicial killings of Chechnya residents without hiding the names of the executioners
On February 15, we published the first part of our multi-year investigation into the execution of 27 Chechnya residents. All these people, for the most part young men, were detained by members of the Chechen security services in December 2016 and January 2017. In the article “Execution after Death,” we reported on the fate of 12 people from this “list of 27” who were detained at the end of December 2016 and placed in an illegal prison on the base of the “Terek” Special Rapid Deployment Force.
We also announced the second part of the investigation, in which we intended to publish the testimony of a member of the Akhmat Kadyrov Police Patrol Service Regiment of the Chechen Republic’s Ministry of Internal Affairs (the “Kadyrov Regiment”)—Suleyman Usmanovich Gezmakhmayev, a former police staff sergeant and regiment rifleman.
Suleyman Gezmakhmayev participated in the December and January special actions that detained hundreds of Chechnya residents and kept a minimum of 56 detainees in the basement of the Kadyrov Regiment’s gym. (According to the “Law on the Police” and other laws and regulations of the Russian Federation, investigative and tracking activities are not included in the functions of the Kadyrov Regiment, members of the Police Patrol Service do not have the right to detain or interrogate people, and citizens cannot be held under guard on the premises of the regiment— Novaya gazeta) He also knew the circumstances of the murder of at least 13 people from our “list of the executed” that occurred on the night of January 26 on the premises of the regiment.
The day after the article ‘Execution after Death’ was published on February 26, 2021, members of the Kadyrov Regiment came to the village of Achkhoy-Martan to see the relatives of our witness. They said that they had been sent by the commander of the regiment, Zamid Chalayev. At first calmly, then with threats, the police tried to learn the whereabouts of Suleyman Gezmakhmayev and his brother (his only close male relative remaining after the death of his father).
Novaya Gazeta and its partners, Memorial Human Rights Centre (we are obliged to inform you that the Ministry of Justice has included the organization in a register of foreign agents. –Novaya gazeta) and the Russian LGBT-Network, having done an unbelievable amount to bring this investigation of extrajudicial killings of Chechen residents to light, made the decision to halt publication of the second part of the investigation so that the relatives of our witness Suleyman Gezmakhmayev could be evacuated from Chechnya and then from the country.
Today we are finally publishing his testimony. For the first time, a Chechen policeman, who himself obeyed illegal orders, testifies about the mass detentions and extrajudicial killings. But it was the execution of the detainees without a trial that was the impetus for his flight from Chechnya. He did not want anything more to do with the Chechen police. And — most important — he wanted to tell the world about the horrible crime to which he was an eyewitness. All these years of concerted efforts by a large coalition of Novaya Gazeta partners were directed at the maximum possible security for this person and his family. But it was not a contract for “safety in exchange for testimony.” The origin of this story was Suleyman Gezmakhmayev’s own decision to give eyewitness testimony and not to hide his face and name. We only helped him to do this and, with all means possible, remain alive.
Translated by John Tokolish