Elena Milashina: ‘I can’t tolerate cowards.’ Why I am refusing the Franco-German Prize For Human Rights

9 April 2021

by Elena Milashina, columnist of Novaya Gazeta, winner of the Moscow Helsinki Group Prize

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Новая газета]

UPDATED 11.04.2021: The Novy Urengoy police have transferred the civic activist Gadayev, who had been deported from France, to the Chechen security services.

Today, on the only flight remaining during the pandemic from Paris to Moscow, the Russian citizen Magomed Gadaev was deported. This morning, when they came for him to the deportation prison in Paris to take him to the airport, Magomed Gadaev cut open his stomach as a protest against the unlawfulness of what was happening.  The appellate court in France had reversed the decision for his deportation, but officers of the French Ministry of Internal Affairs ignored the decision of the court.  The slashes on his stomach did not hinder the deportation: the flight, with Gadaev on board, left with only a slight delay—36 minutes.

Right now, Gadaev is in the deportation section of Sheremetevo Airport.  He was able to call his wife using a telephone that a stranger lent him.  Except for this, there has been no communication with Gadaev: during deportation they take away all personal objects, including mobile phones.

Magomed Gadaev is 37 years old and had lived in France for 11 of them.

He left Russia in 2010 because he had been abducted in Chechnya and held at a Chechen OMON base that was then headed by a Chechen security officer close to Ramzan Kadyrov, Alikhan Tsakayev (now deputy head of the Chechen Republic’s Ministry for Emergency Situations). The Chechen OMON kidnapped Magomed Gadaev and were getting him ready, together with other unlawfully detained Russian citizens, for a “delivery”: they were waiting for the detainees to grow beards so that they could be taken into the mountains and shot as insurgents. For that, you can get an award from the Russian Minister of Internal Affairs a cash bonus from the head of Chechnya.

Another Russian citizen was in the same secret Chechen prison with Magomed Gadaev—Islam Umarpashaev.  He had been abducted from his home by the Chechen OMON at the end of December 2009.  His relatives asked for help from the human rights defenders of the Joint Mobile Group founded by Igor Kalyapin, chair of the NGO Committee against Torture.  It was specifically thanks to the relatives’ request for help from the human rights defenders that Islam Umarpashaev was released and, miraculously, Magomed Gadaev got out of the secret prison together with him. Both gave evidence in the criminal case against the Chechen police for abduction and torture that was brought through the efforts of the people working for the Committee against Torture.

This case was partly due to the fact that Russia had a new president. I can’t say that Dmitry Medvedev was particularly resolute about the Chechen security forces, but it was during those years that Russian human rights activists were able to convey at least some information to the Russian authorities about the absolute arbitrariness by government agents that was happening in Chechnya. When the Russian president was replaced, the case of Islam Umarpashaev, which had in fact reached the stage of detention of the suspects (the executioners were officially identified as their victims) fell apart.

The reason for Magomed Gadaev’s deportation from France to Chechnya (no one is looking for him in Russia, as there is no criminal case against him) is not officially known. France has no official criminal case against him either. There is only an unofficial one: possible involvement in pimping. We understand that this claim completely neutralizes the main fear the French have in relation to Russians of Chechen origin: Gadaev definitely does not share the ideas of the Islamic State, which is banned in Russia.

However, it is precisely this fear that the French authorities are using to justify their actions today. The monstrous murder of the French teacher Samuel Paty, committed last October by a refugee of Chechen nationality who had moved to France at the age of five, contributed to the resurrection of the infamous notion that all Chechens are responsible for the actions of one. It was precisely this principle that guided Stalin in 1944 when he deported the entire Vainakh people to the Kazakh steppes in winter.

Today Chechen deportees are flown from Paris to Moscow almost every week.

At Sheremetevo airport they usually disappear only to reappear in Chechnya as suspects in dubious criminal cases having signed confessions under torture of having participated in illegal armed groups (which Ramzan Kadyrov claims no longer exist in Chechnya).

And that is at best.

Some, like Ilyas Sadulaev deported from France on 12 March , and Lezi Artsuev, deported from France on 5 April, have disappeared altogether.

In 2017, the foreign ministries of France and Germany (the latter of which has also been unceremonious of late in its treatment of Russian citizens of Chechen ethnicity) awarded me the joint Franco-German award For Human Rights and the Rule of Law. They awarded me the prize for writing about members of the Chechen LGBT community persecuted in Chechnya, just as before that drug addicts, Salafists, dissidents andcritics of the Chechen government had been persecuted, and before that those suspected of terrorism.

I have been writing for many years about what has been going on in Chechnya, this system of abductions, illegal imprisonment, electric shock torture, beatings and rape. And when they decided that I should receive an award (and have it presented to me in person by the French and German ambassadors to Russia), I thought that the representatives of these two great European countries would have at least have read what I was writing.

But if that were the case, then it is unlikely that all this would have happened today to Gadaev. If the fate of a Chechen person was really important to the leaders of these states, then French cops would not have shown complete disrespect towards the French court’s decision, just as if they were in Russia. And a Russian citizen would not have cut his stomach open in a French deportation prison, as if he were in a Russian prison where cut veins, sewn mouths and endless hunger strikes are a matter of course.

Today, after hearing of Magomed Gadaev’s cut open stomach, I understand that the rule of law is a thing of the past in France and that the time has come for the rule of fear.

I could have never have worked in Chechnya if I was afraid. I can’t tolerate cowards. And still less being rewarded by them.

I will send my official refusal of the Franco-German Prize For Human Rights and the Rule of Law and the physical prize itself (a medal) as a valuable parcel to the address of the French Embassy, where the official ceremony took place in 2017.


The Russian refugee Magomed Gadaev, deported from Paris in violation of a French court’s decision this morning, is still at Sheremetevo [International] Airport, in the transit zone of Terminal D. They have not detained him (since there are no legal grounds to do so), but officers from the Russian FSB’s Border Service are not letting him go either.

When asked by Novaya Gazeta on what grounds Magomed Gadaev’s  freedom of movement is being restricted, and why a lawyer has not been allowed to see him for five hours, the border guard replied: because Magomed Gadaev does not have a Russian passport (he only has a provisional certificate issued by the Russian Embassy in France as a replacement for his lost passport, and it meets the criteria for proof of identity).

In addition, officers of the FSB’s Border Service told Gadaev that ‘they have agreed to send him to his place of residence in the Chechen Republic’. With whom the Russian Federation’s FSB has “agreements” – whether with the French authorities or the authorities of the Chechen Republic – they refused to explain to us.

Magomed Gadaev told Novaya Gazeta that he was questioned for several hours by various officers from the Russian Federation’s FSB (as far as he knew). The questions concerned the reasons why he left Russia and was then deported from France.

Magomed Gadaev said that he did not have a fixed place of residence in Chechnya (he had not lived in Russia for 11 years) and insisted that there was no way he could be deported to the Chechen Republic just because he was a Chechen. They could kill him there.

Gadaev is a witness in a criminal case brought against Chechen police officers under serious articles of Russia’s Criminal Code  (“kidnapping” and “abuse of power”), which is still being investigated. His life is in real danger.

Following the interrogation, Magomed Gadaev is convinced that the Russia’s Federal Security Service has lost interest in him.

When Novaya Gazeta last managed to contact him, Magomed Gadaev’s lawyer Semyon Tsvetkov had not been allowed to see him. Seven and a half hours after the flight from Paris landed at Sheremetevo. Gadaev was not even allowed to eat. In fact, for more than a day he has been without food. This has serious consequences given his condition after the injury (Gadaev slit his own stomach in a deportation prison in Paris, protesting against the illegal actions of the French police).

Oleg Orlov, head of the Hot Spots programme at Memorial Human Rights Centre (which, according to Novaya Gazeta, Russia’s Ministry of Justice considers a foreign agent organisation), described the situation with Gadaev an “absolute disgrace” in an interview with Novaya Gazeta

“This situation is completely unacceptable from a human rights perspective. Moreover, it is also unacceptable from the perspective of the two countries that have Gadaev’s life in their hands. First, on the part of France which expelled the refugee, in violation of a court decision, to the country from which he fled because there was a threat to his life, the French knew beforehand that they were sending a person to be extrajudicially executed.

On the other hand, the Russian Federation accepts its citizen, but then unknown officers, apparently the FSB having not introduced themselves nor allowed him a lawyer, detain Gadaev and tell him that they have some kind of agreement with “someone” to send him to the Chechen Republic. And there the Chechen security forces, the people against whom Gadaev gave official testimony as a witness, are walking free. At the same time, no criminal case was initiated against Gadaev himself, he is not on the wanted list. However, he is being held on incomprehensible grounds in order to be handed over to those who may well have an interest in his disappearance.

Both countries, in fact, maliciously violate human rights in this situation and, in my opinion, there is a conspiracy of the law enforcement structures of the two countries. Only one of these countries is Russia, while the other positions itself as a country under the rule of law, is very proud of this and publicly opposes itself in this capacity to countries like ours.”

At 22:00 on April 9, Gadaev’s other lawyer, Artem Nemov, appealed to the prosecutor’s office with a statement about the violation of Gadaev’s right to a legal defence and the illegal deprivation of liberty.

Translated by John Tokolish, Simon Cosgrove, Tyler Langendorfer and Matthew Quigley

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