Georgia’s new government under President Mikheil Saakashvili may be tilting toward Russia on Chechnya-related issues in order to win concessions in other areas. In early May, the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights sent an open letter to Saakashvili expressing concern over two Chechens living in Georgia, Islam Khashiev and Hussein Alkhanov, who may have been secretly handed over to Russian authorities even though a Tbilisi court had acquitted them of violating border regulations. The two have disappeared and reportedly are now in Russian hands.
The Russian news agency Interfax reported on May 11 that about 60 Chechen refugees in Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge launched a hunger strike last week to protest alleged harassment by the Georgian authorities. Nana Kakabadze, head of the organization Former Political Prisoners for Human Rights, said: “The refugees want the Georgian authorities to stop persecuting them, to stop abducting men and to stop secretly deporting them to Russia.”
They also want safe passage to places other than Chechnya. According to Kakabadze, the refugees are experiencing pressure from “masked people in uniform who are very likely officers of the Georgian State Security Ministry.”