Memorial has published a report about a secret Interior Ministry prison in Grozny where, according to the human rights group, people were tortured and killed. According to the report, which was posted on Memorial’s website (Memo.ru) on June 5, at the end May Memorial staffers were able to enter a now-empty building in the center of the Chechen capital that had until recently housed an operational group of the federal Interior Ministry in Grozny’s Oktyabrsky district. From 2000 to 2003, the building had housed the Temporary Department of Internal Affairs (VOVD) of the Oktyabrsky district. Based on abundant evidence found there by Memorial staffers, the report stated: “Detained and arrested people were tortured in the Oktyabrsky district VOVD. Many of the people taken there disappeared without a trace.”
The Memorial report noted that the facility had long been notorious. “To a great degree this dark reputation is connected to the activities of the combined militia unit (SOM) of the Khanty-Mansiisk Autonomous District (frequently it is inaccurately called the Khanty-Mansiisk OMON) at the Oktyabrsky VOVD in 2000-2001,” Memorial stated in its report. “A second assignment of this unit in Grozny in the spring of 2002 aroused protests by human rights organizations. The Khanty-Mansiisk OMON was assigned to Grozny also in subsequent years. In April 2001, local residents discovered several bodies in the basements of semi-destroyed apartment buildings located not far from the Oktyabrsky VOVD building. After that the military blew up the empty buildings surrounding the VOVD.” According to Memorial, an investigation of the ruins was launched, but access to the ruins was quickly cut off and officials announced that no bodies had been found.
On May 29-31, Memorial staffers visited the abandoned premises of the Oktyabrsky district VOVD, where they took photographs and videos. As Newsru.com reported on June 7, among the things they found and recorded were apparent traces of blood and inscriptions written on the wall of the premises’ basement area, as well as a photo album containing 104 photographs and a list of names “of persons of operational interest” to the federal Interior Ministry. In addition, the Memorial staffers on May 30 interviewed Alavdi Sadykov, a teacher who was detained in the spring of 2000 and held in the Oktyabrsky district VOVD for three months. Sadykov, who is missing his left ear, told Memorial that during his detention, VOVD personnel severely tortured him and cut off his ear.
According to the Memorial report, former detainees and relatives of detainees, along with local journalists, told the human rights group on May 29 that immediately after the federal Interior Ministry operational group vacated the Oktyabrsky VOVD building earlier in May, a construction crew was sent in to demolish the building. Memorial staffer Natalya Estemirova appealed to the Oktyabrsky district administration, as well as the Oktyabrsky district police and prosecutor’s office, to halt the demolition and to send in investigators to search the premises for possible evidence of crimes committed. However, the demolition continued and no investigators were sent. In addition, Memorial staffers reported that the inscriptions on the walls of the premises were removed on the night of May 31.
On June 7 Chechnya’s chief prosecutor, Valery Kuznetsov, told Interfax that his office was investigating Memorial’s allegations of illegal detention and torture at the Oktyabrsky district VOVD building, but he denied that the premises had not been adequately searched and investigated. He said that the facility was a VOVD remand prison and “was in no way a secret installation.” Kuznetsov added that prosecutors had taken custody of the “photo album” found on the premises by Memorial and that its contents would be compared with the database of disappeared persons. He also said that if blood traces were indeed found there, they would be analyzed and compared with blood samples from relatives of those allegedly detained at the site. Kuznetsov said there are ongoing investigations of alleged disappearances involving the Oktyabrsky VOVD. In 2005, the Oktyabrsky District Court sentenced Sergei Lapin, a member of the Khanty-Mansiisk police unit, to 11 years in priso n for illegally detaining and interrogating Grozny resident Zelimkhan Murdalov. However, Murdalov himself remains missing.
Chechnya’s human rights ombudsman, Nurdi Nukhazhiev, told Interfax on June 7 that “no proof” had been found that a secret prison where people were tortured and killed had existed on the premises of the Oktyabrsky VOVD. Referring to the personnel who had manned the detention facility, he added: “I am not saying that angels served there, I am not saying that ideal people were there, but they weren’t such idiots…as to leave traces testifying to torture and murder.” Should the claims made by Memorial turn out to be true, “then this issue will not under any circumstances remain outside the attention of Chechen President Alu Alkhanov and the head of government Ramzan Kadyrov,” Nukhazhiev said, adding: “But someone would like to supercharge tensions here, and I note that with regret.”
In May, the Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights published a report claiming that security forces loyal to Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov maintain secret prisons throughout Chechnya. The report, which was submitted to Council of Europe Legal Affairs Committee Rapporteur Dick Marty, also detailed numerous cases of illegal detention and torture in those alleged secret prisons. During a May 18 meeting with members of Chechen human rights groups in Gudermes, Kadyrov denied the existence of secret prisons in Chechnya and asked the meeting’s participants to invite Russian and international human rights organizations to the republic to see for themselves (Chechnya Weekly, May 18 and 25).
The separatist Chechenpress news agency on May 29 published an appeal by the chairman of the board of the Society of Concentration (Filtration) Camp Prisoners in the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, Vakha Banzhaev, who claimed that over 130,000 Chechens have been detained in camps and more than 35,000 have disappeared without a trace over the last 12 years. In the appeal, Banzhaev named over 20 sites in Chechnya that he claimed are “concentration camps and places of temporary confinement,” adding that prisoners “are also kept in dungeons at virtually every sentry point and deployment area of the occupation troops in the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria.”
Meanwhile, Interfax on June 5 quoted an unnamed Memorial representative as saying that 103 residents of Chechnya were abducted between January and May of this year. “Of these, 50 people were released, six were found dead, and nine are currently under investigation,” the Memorial staffer said. “In addition, 38 people are missing after being abducted.” Memorial also reported that 40 people have been killed in Chechnya under various circumstances, including nine officials of Chechen security bodies and seven militants, since the start of the year. The human rights group noted that these statistics are not complete. “Memorial is able to cover only a limited portion of the republic, approximately 25-30% of its territory,” Interfax quoted the human rights group’s website as saying. “Other regions, including the mountainous south, are inaccessible to our personnel. Yet the situation is tense there: murders and kidnappings occur almost every day.”