Some 2,000, people rallied in Chechnya on December 29 to protest the granting of parole to Yuri Budanov, the Russian colonel who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the murder of an 18-year-old Chechen woman, Elza Kungaeva.
According to the Associated Press, protesters in the Chechen capital Grozny carried posters reading “Impunity encourages new crimes” and “Criminals must sit in prison.” The news agency reported that the December 29 rally was the second since a Russian court ruled on December 24 that Budanov should be released after eight years and six months of his ten-year sentence.
Budanov was arrested in early 2000 and convicted in July 2003 of murdering Kungaeva. He admitted strangling her, but said he did it in a fit of rage believing her to be a rebel sniper. The Moscow Times on December 29 quoted Kungaeva’s father, Visa, as saying he was shocked by the decision and would appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.
The ruling was also criticized by both Russian and Chechen officials. Vyacheslav Lebedev, chairman of the Federal Supreme Court, said he might personally intervene, while Chechnya’s human rights ombudsman, Nurdi Nukhazhiev, was quoted by Interfax as saying the decision was “not about Budanov, but about the attitude of the Russian justice system toward Chechens.” He said that each time, “the moment of truth arrives and you can see they are not Russian citizens like everyone else,” adding that Budanov’s expected release was “a signal for the start of a campaign to free other criminals who committed crimes in Chechnya.”
Interfax reported on December 30 that residents of the village of Tangi-Chu in Chechnya’s Urus-Martan district had alleged during a meeting with Nurdi Nukhazhiev on December 29 that the remains of 67 people had been found at the place where Budanov’s unit had been stationed, and that some of the remains had been identified by their relatives and buried while others were still in a mass grave. Nukhazhiev’s press service reported that another mass grave, in which people had been buried alive, had not yet been opened. Nukhazhiev vowed to launch new criminal cases against Budanov.
Finally, on December 31, Nukhazhiev’s office said in a press release that a Grozny resident, Ramzan Didaev, had made a statement accusing Budanov of involvement in the killing of his brother, Khusein Didaev. Didaev said his brother and father were stopped by federal servicemen at the entrance of the village of Duba-Yurt in January 2000 and that Budanov arrived at the scene and then ordered his brother and two other men to be taken away. According to the press service, Didaev said in his statement that when Budanov was asked where they were being taken, he replied: “To a place from where one does not return.” The statement alleges that the bodies of the three men were found a month later.