Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 7 Issue: 32

On August 9, Reuters quoted former inmates of a detention center in the Chechen capital as saying that beatings with bottles, sleep deprivation and threats of violence against relatives were routine forms of torture there. The news agency cited the testimony of former prisoners of the federal Interior Ministry’s Operative and Search Bureau, known as ORB-2 in Grozny, which, according to Reuters, is housed “in a four-story gray building guarded by towers with machine-gun nests and a concrete fence.” One former inmate, 21-year-old Ali Techiev, who was accused of being a rebel fighter, said in a written statement to local officials that was quoted by Reuters: “The cell walls were smeared with blood. They chained me to a hot radiator. Then they started to conduct inhumane tortures. The same demands over and over. They beat me with a sand-filled bottle over the head, the feet, the kidneys and other parts of my body. The torturers changed every night. They got tired of beating me.” Techiev also said in the statement, “My torturers said that they took their orders only from Moscow, and that no one could help me.”

Abusaid Azimov told Reuters that his brother, Anzor, who was also accused of rebel activity, was taken to OBR-2 earlier this year. “The torture went on day and night for three days,” he told the news agency. “Then they said that if he didn’t admit his guilt they would bring in his relatives and beat them until he signed.”

Reuters noted that Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov said in April that OBR-2 should be closed because it “massively breaks the law.” At that time, however, Aleksandr Cherkasov of the Memorial human rights group noted that other security forces, including those under Sulim Yamadaev’s “Vostok” GRU spetsnaz battalion and those under Kadyrov himself, were also guilty of such depredations (Chechnya Weekly, April 20).

Meanwhile, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Russian-language website, Svoboda.org, reported on August 3 that Memorial had released its fifth annual report on the human rights situation in Chechnya, which it summed up as “a stable level of lawlessness.”

The website quoted Svetlana Gannushkina, the head of Memorial’s “Migration and Rights” program, as saying, “Indeed, the number of abductions, extra-judicial executions [and] murders became statistically fewer and there were fewer people who appealed to us. But that does not mean that qualitative changes took place. Stabilization has set in; there is a certain stable level of lawlessness, hopelessness and fear.” Gannushkina pointed specifically to the disappearance of 11 people from the village of Borozdinovskaya, allegedly at the hands of members of the GRU’s Vostok battalion, which has never been investigated despite promises by the authorities (Chechnya Weekly, June 30 and July 27, 2005). She also cited the disappearance of Murad Muradov, chairman of the humanitarian non-governmental organization “Save the Generation,” who was taken away on suspicion of involvement with the rebels by security forces during a special operation in Grozny (Chechnya Weekly, May 11, 2005). Muradov’s parents were later asked by prosecutors to retrieve his mutilated body from a morgue, even though it was stated on official documents handed over along with his body that he had not been suspected of any illegal activities. The third case that Gannushkina noted was the detention of Bilat Chilaev, a driver for the Chechen office of the Civil Support Committee, which Gannushkina heads (Chechnya Weekly, April 20). Chilaev’s fate remains unknown.

According to Svoboda.org, residents of Chechnya had until recently been lining up at the offices of human rights organizations in the republic to file complaints about the actions of the republic’s security bodies. “Of course, people are turning to us; our employees—both lawyers and social workers—are completely loaded down with work,” Gannushkina told Radio Liberty. “But on the whole, they are…appealing about civil issues. They are also appealing about criminal cases, about abductions—but these [cases] have become fewer. Maybe people are appealing less often because they no longer believe in this [the efficacy of such appeals]. And the atmosphere, the general atmosphere of Grozny—as one of our Grozny women said—is the atmosphere of Russia in 1937, with people going somewhere around the corner to whisper what they really think, while saying something quite different out loud.”

Radio Liberty also noted that last month, the Interior Ministry imposed restrictions on aid workers in Chechnya. As Reuters reported on July 21, the new rules mean that NGOs must obtain approval from the security services for their staffers’ movements weeks in advance and report to the police when they leave Chechnya on their trips. According to Radio Liberty, foreign organizations operating in Chechnya must now get FSB approval before hiring local residents. Aleksandr Petrov, deputy director of the Moscow office of Human Rights Watch, told the radio station that these rules were promulgated in order to limit non-governmental organizations, particularly foreign ones, “in their travels, actions [and] work in this region.” Petrov said that the Russian authorities had taken such steps “because the situation in Chechnya, according to my observations, differs greatly from the serene picture that the Russian media try to draw. And in order to smooth over this difference, they are most likely inventing a pile of all kinds of instructions that in one way or another limit [the NGOs’] work.”