By and large, the policy of the current leadership of Chechnya is to emphasize the positive sides of life both in the republic itself and in the Russian Federation in general. However, Chechen authorities sometimes show their discontent with Russian authorities. In one of the latest such episodes, Grozny expressed its dissatisfaction with the branch of the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service (UFSIN) in Bashkortostan. Chechen human rights ombudsman Nurdi Nukhazhiev asked Russian Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika, Russian Investigative Committee head Alexander Bastrykin and the governor of Bashkortostan, Rustem Khamitov, to inspect the life conditions of Chechen inmates in Bashkortostan. Nukhazhiev’s complaint is based on the letter from two Chechens, Apti Arsakhanov and Said-Emin Bachalov, who are serving prison terms in Correctional Facility #2 of the Russian UFSIN in Bashkortostan. The Chechen inmates asked the Chechen authorities to protect them and others from physical violence and violations of their human dignity by the employees of the prison facility (Grozny-inform.ru, August 27).
According to Nukhazhiev, the employees of Bashkortostan’s second and third correctional facilities have declared that “all Chechens are bandits, the Chechen Republic should be surrounded with barbed wire and everyone should be shot there.” The Chechen ombudsman reminded the officials of a series of riots that took place at Correctional Facility #2. Following the riots, Nukhazhiev asserted, the prison administration sent the Chechen inmates to other prison facilities, “for the purpose of concealing cases of torture and abuse” (Kommersant, August 28).
The Bashkir UFSIN could not have ignored Nukhazhiev’s statement. Knowing the special attention the Russian leadership gives to Chechnya, such accusations may have had a negative impact on the leadership of Bashkortostan itself. In general, no one in Russia today wants Ramzan Kadyrov as an enemy or even to be displeased with them. The press service of Russia’s UFSIN in Bashkortostan quickly responded to the Chechen ombudsman’s letter, saying that they would look into the matter (Proufu.ru, August 27).
Officials in Bashkortostan think that Nukhazhiev may have received biased information. According to the press service of the Federal Penitentiary Service in Bashkortostan, the public monitoring organizations “were delighted” by the living conditions of the inmates. In reality, such “delight” in fact must have been the public monitoring organizations’ wish to continue working in the prisons or by the inmates’ fear of talking openly about their real conditions in prison. Otherwise, it is hard to explain why these facilities have experienced a series of riots over the past three months (Vesti.ru, June 9).
Chechens have played a particularly prominent role in this story. A majority of the employees of the UFSIN in Bashkortostan went through the war in Chechnya (Specnazopedia.narod.ru) and are still dispatched to serve in the republic twice a year. Hence, many of the employees have fought in Chechnya and associate all Chechens with the militants, terrorists or bandits who injured them or killed their friends. Russian human rights organizations have repeatedly reported that Chechens in Russian prisons are targeted by the authorities based on their ethnicity (Kavkazsky Uzel, February 11).
According to Akhmed Zakaev, the Chechen politician who resides in the West, up to 25,000 Chechens may currently be behind bars in Russia (Svoboda.org, August 16, 2010). Many of those inmates are females who were accused of providing support to the militants (Caucasustimes.com, July 6, 2008). These figures are hard to verify via independent sources, given the realities of contemporary Russia.
It is not rare for arrested Chechens to secretly pass messages via their lawyers, asking their friends and relatives to influence the prison administration to improve their conditions. Said-Emin Ibragimov, a well-known Chechen rights activist who lives in Strasbourg, France, often makes such messages public (Chechenews.com, August 29, 2012). Ibragimov survived an attempt on his life that was likely connected to his activities and that has not yet been solved by the French security services (Deutsche Welle–Russian service, February 7).
Russian human rights organizations try to monitor the condition of the Chechen inmates in Russian prisons whenever possible. However, few Chechens dare to complain because they know that after the observers leave, the prison administration will retaliate against them. The European Court for Human Rights is currently examining 11 complaints from Chechens and Ingush held in Russian correctional facilities. The Grazhdanskoe Sodeistvie Committee documented prison administration abuses in the period from September 2011 to August 2014 (Kavkazsky Uzel, April 1).
According to the head of Grazhdanskoe Sodeistvie Committee, Svetlana Gannushkina, those Chechens who dared to ask for help numbered up to 700 individuals. According to the report released by rights activists, Chechens and Ingush in prison are often victims of Russian servicemen who fought in the Russian-Chechen wars. It therefore comes as no surprise that such massive pressure on the Chechens in the prisons forced the Chechen authorities to ask the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service to allow the Chechens to serve their prison terms inside Chechnya (Memo.ru, March 15, 2007). Inmates who were imprisoned on terrorism-related charges are not covered by this decision, but it may give a chance to many other Chechens to improve their living conditions in detention.
Numerous violations of the rights of Chechens in Russian prisons show the low level of mutual trust between the Russians and the Chechens. The Russian authorities repeat the mantra about the “normalization” of the situation in Chechnya, but it becomes harder and harder every day. The large Chechen diaspora in the West actively reacts to these cases of abuse by the Russian authorities. Officials in Grozny realize that and are becoming more vocal about such policies of the federal center in regard to the welfare of Chechens serving prison terms in Russia.