Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 7 Issue: 18

The week saw another controversy involving the Chechen prime minister: on May 1, a delegation sent by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) was prevented from entering Tsentoroi, the native village of the Kadyrov clan. Kavkazky Uzel on May 2 quoted the head of the delegation, Mauro Palma, as saying: “Yesterday the committee’s delegation accompanied by Russian authorities set off for Tsentoroi; however, we were stopped at the entrance to the village by security forces and were forced to turn back.” According to the website, Palma called the incident “unacceptable.”

The CPT delegation met with President Alkhanov in Grozny on May 2. Agenstvo natsionalnykh novostei (ANN) quoted Alkhanov as promising full cooperation with the commission. Chechnya’s human rights commissioner, Nurdi Nukhazhiev, and the republic’s prosecutor, Valery Kuznetsov, also attended the meeting with the delegation. According to NTV television, Alkhanov told the delegation that the Chechen leadership would provide them with all the necessary assistance in their work, and thanked them for helping to “strengthen peace” in the republic. “There can only be peace when human rights are observed,” Alkhanov said, while adding that “there are, unfortunately, isolated cases of members of certain departments exceeding their authority” and that “following the hostilities there remain areas where civil rights are being violated, but together with members of the Russian authorities we are exerting maximum efforts to prevent them.”

Meanwhile, Interfax on May 2 quoted Chechen Interior Minister Ruslan Alkhanov as saying that regular police officers had been on duty in Tsentoroi when the CPT delegation was stopped outside the village on May 1 because senior officers had been sent to other towns to help ensure security during the May Day holidays. In light of the forthcoming anniversary of the assassination of Akhmad Kadyrov (May 9), the police officers around Tsentoroi had been given special instructions not to allow any armed or unknown persons into the village regardless of the documents they produced, the Interior Minister said, adding that the European delegation had not given the security authorities any prior notice of their intention to visit Tsentoroi.

Some human rights activists had a less benign explanation for why the CPT delegation was prevented from entering Tsentoroi on May 1. Kavkazky Uzel on May 3 quoted Aleksandr Cherkasov of the Memorial human rights center as saying his group has received numerous reports of people being held and tortured in private jails in Tsentoroi. The best-known episode, he told the website, was the holding of relatives of the late Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov. Among other cases reported by Memorial is that of Nurzhan Aisultanov, who was abducted by kadyrovtsy in March 2004 for allegedly aiding and abetting Aslan Maskhadov and jailed in Tsentoroi until June 2004. Yet another case involves Makhmud, Marzhan, Ali and Magomed Dzhabrailov, who were abducted in July 2004 and jailed in Tsentoroi because one of them had allegedly been a member of an “illegal armed formation.” Memorial says it later found out that a fifth member of the Dhzabrailov family, Musa, was also jailed in Tsentoroi. After his abduction, Musa’s captors shot him in the leg and then interrogated and tortured for ten days. He was taken to a hospital in grave condition and operated on, but as soon as he was able to walk on his own, he was again jailed in Tsentoroi. He was finally freed in August 2004.

Memorial’s Cherkasov said: “It is clear, then, why the delegation of the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture was at first not allowed in, and then the next day allowed to visit the village: in little Tsentoroi, it is possible to transfer kidnapped people from place to another in a half an hour.”