Newsru.com reported on June 28 that a demonstration was being held that day in the Chechen capital of Grozny to protest the searches that had been carried out in homes belonging to the relatives of the victims of GRU officers on trial for killing Chechen civilians in 2002. On June 14, a military court in Rostov-on-Don found Captain Eduard Ulman and three subordinates guilty of the 2002 killing of six civilians, including a pregnant woman and a teenager. Ulman and two other servicemen failed to show up in court but were sentenced in absentia for 14, 12 and 11 years, respectively. The fourth serviceman, present in court, was jailed for nine years (Chechnya Weekly, June 14).
According to Newsru.com, the protesters claimed that 15 relatives and a neighbor of the six victims have disappeared since the trial of the GRU officers began. The website reported that more than 300 demonstrators gathered in Grozny on June 28 for the protest, which was organized by Chechnya’s Public Chamber and coordinating council for non-governmental organizations and was given an official green light. NGO representatives accused the federal Prosecutor General’s Office of returning to the practice of total zachistki, or security sweeps, of the kind carried out by the Russian military during the early years of the “counter-terrorist” operation in Chechnya.
Organizers of the Grozny demonstration told Kavkazky Uzel that “the intentions of the Prosecutor General’s Office – which fell for the provocative statements of Chechenophobe Dmitry Rogozin [the nationalist State Duma deputy] that Chechens were involved in the disappearance of the murderers of peaceful Chechen inhabitants, Ulman, and his collaborators – to carry out searches in the mountain villages where the victims of the Ulmanites lived are a flagrant violation of all humane norms and the constitutional rights of the citizens of the republic.”
As Kavkazky Uzel noted, Rogozin, citing an unnamed source, claimed earlier that Ulman and his co-defendants were kidnapped and possibly killed by Chechens (Chechnya Weekly, April 19). Following his statements, the Prosecutor General’s Office ordered the law-enforcement organs to question inhabitants of the villages of Dai and Nokhch-Keloi in Chechnya’s mountainous Shatoi district about whether they were involved in kidnapping the missing defendants.
Kavkazky Uzel quoted an unnamed human rights activist as saying: “It is completely obvious to us that an attempt to lead the investigation down a false trail is behind this. The Ulman group was not kidnapped. We are certain that they are all completely healthy and either living quietly in their homes or hiding on one of the military bases of their GRU friends, possibly outside of Russia. For example, in Trans-Dniester, South Ossetia or somewhere else.” The activist added that Rogozin should be prosecuted for inciting interethnic discord and xenophobia.
Interfax quoted Chechnya’s human rights ombudsman, Nurdi Nukhazhiev, as saying that signatures are being collected for a letter of protest to the Prosecutor General’s Office. “On the basis of the Russian Federation constitution and with all permissible methods we will protect the rights of the inhabitants of the Chechen Republic, who during the course of military actions, suffered at the hands of the representatives of power structures as well as the [separatist] militants. In certain cases, unfortunately, it will be necessary to go to the European Court of Human Rights.” Nukhazhiev said that participants in the June 28 Grozny protest “regard the official letter of the Prosecutor General’s Office that ordered the examination of … the premises of all the relatives of the victims of the ‘Ulman group’ and a fellow villager living in the settlements of Dai and Nokhch-Keloi as an attempt to put psychological pressure on the inhabitants of the Chechen Republic in order to force them to abandon their attempts to take servicemen responsible for the deaths of their relatives to court.”
According to Newsru.com, prosecutors recently questioned Mikail Ezhiev, the head of the Chechen Human Rights Center who testified in the Ulman trial on behalf of the victims, in connection with the disappearance of Ulman and his co-defendants.