The New York Times on February 1 provided fresh details about the accusations made against Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov by Umar Israilov, the ex-rebel fighter that became Kadyrov’s bodyguard who was murdered in Vienna on January 13 (North Caucasus Weekly, January 15, 23 and 30).
New York Times correspondent C. J. Chivers wrote that Israilov, who filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg accusing Kadyrov of torture, described in “written legal complaints” various acts of violence committed by Kadyrov and his subordinates.
Chivers reported that the New York Times spent several months evaluating the allegations made by Israilov and his father, who says that Kadyrov illegally detained him for more than 10 months, and that his captors tortured victims with a gas torch. According to Chivers, the newspaper interviewed supporting witnesses and independent investigators who had examined the Israilov case, and obtained corroborating statements from another government insider and from another victim (who fled Chechnya but remains in hiding) who said they saw Israilov being tortured.
According to Chivers, Israilov said that after he and a fellow rebel were arrested by pro-Moscow Chechens in April 2003, he was taken to Kadyrov’s native village of Tsentoroi and confined there with other detainees “in cells outside a weight-lifting center” which, according to victims and human rights groups, was one of several “torture chambers” run by pro-Kremlin Chechens. Israilov said as Kadyrov looked on, Federal Security Service (FSB) officers there beat him and tried to force him to confess to killing at least 17 people, but he refused to confess. Israilov said Kadyrov then slapped him once, after which he was beaten by Kadyrov’s guards. According to the New York Times, Israilov said he was beaten a few times a week for three months, often after being tied to fitness machines and with his captors demanding information about other rebels.
Israilov said that on one occasion, Adam Delimkhanov, the Kadyrov associate who now represents Chechnya in the State Duma, beat him with a shovel handle just before Kadyrov fired a pistol near his feet. Israilov said that on another occasion, he was connected to wires and Kadyrov administered electric shocks. Israilov said that in a subsequent incident, a cellmate, Shamil Gerikhanov, was sodomized with a shovel handle by a guard commander, while on another occasion, Aidamir Gushaev, who had organized a rebel cell’s finances, was interrogated by Kadyrov, who “demanded money and grew frustrated.” Israilov said he then heard a single gunshot, followed by “bursts of automatic fire” and Kadyrov snarling, “Gazvat”—the Chechen word for holy war that was also the guards’ slang for “an area where victims were buried in unmarked graves.”
Israilov said he joined the Chechen presidential security service after Kadyrov essentially left him with the choice of doing so or being killed. While Kadyrov’s office has said it has no record that Israilov served as a member of the presidential security service, Chivers reported that Russian prosecutorial records from Chechnya show that Israilov worked for Kadyrov’s guard unit beginning in late 2003. Israilov said that during the 10 months he worked as a member of the guard in Tenstoroi he saw at least 20 illegally detained people tortured, with Kadyrov “participating in several sessions.” Many victims were the relatives of rebel fighters—part of Kadyrov’s tactic of pressuring rebels to surrender by targeting their relatives.
Israilov said he watched the commander who had sodomized his cellmate, Shamil Gerikhanov, plead with Kadyrov to order the victim killed, to which Kadyrov said, “Take him and finish him,” after which Gerikhanov was driven away and never seen again. According to Israilov, the rapist, whose first name was Alanbek, was promoted to be a police commander in Grozny.
Chivers also detailed the experience of Israilov’s father, who was detained, beaten and subjected to electric shocks after Israilov deserted the presidential security service. While he was not personally beaten or tortured by Kadyrov, Israilov’s father says that he watched Kadyrov arrive at the room where he was being held with other detainees and “wander between victims—beating some, shocking others, playing billiards.” The elder Israilov said that among those held with him was Supyan Ekiev, a member of Kadyrov’s guard unit accused of collaborating in a rebel attack, who was hung by his arms from an exercise machine, appeared to have a broken jaw, and whose hands and legs had been burned by open flames. The Memorial human rights group reported that Ekiev’s body was later found near Grozny “heavily distorted by torture.”
The elder Israilov said he was not tortured again but shared space with as many as 100 detainees, mostly rebel fighters’ relatives or government fighters accused of minor crimes, many of whom were beaten or subjected to shocks. He said that among those he saw in custody during the months he was detained was Khamad Umarov, the 72-year-old father of Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov.
Chivers reported that after Israilov’s father was detained and Israilov had fled abroad, Kadyrov called Israilov in Poland, demanding he return to Chechnya and threatening to kill his father and other relatives. Israilov refused to return.
Chivers reported that on January 9, with Israilov “prepared to publicize his story” and after consulting with one of his legal advocates, the New York Times notified the office of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin that it sought interviews with Russian officials about Israilov’s allegations. According to Chivers, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment in detail, saying, “It’s not wise to comment on any rumors.” Israilov was shot to death in Vienna four days later.
The New York Times reported last month that a 41-year-old Chechen, identified as Artur Kurmakayev of St. Petersburg, told Austria’s Office for the Protection of the Constitution and Action against Terrorism last year that he worked for a “secretive department” under Kadyrov charged with repatriating Chechens in exile and that he had seen a list at Kadyrov’s residence in the Chechen town of Gudermes of approximately 5,000 names of Chechens who had either fought against Kadyrov or “have otherwise attracted unfavorable attention,” and that 300 of those on the list “have to die,” including about 50 Chechens living in Austria. Kurmakayev said in his statement to Austrian authorities that he had been sent to Vienna by Kadyrov to bring Israilov home “by the use of force if necessary” (North Caucasus Weekly, January 15).
The Kasparov.ru website reported on February 2 that it was not yet clear which lawyer brought Israilov’s complaint before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The website, however, quoted Olga Trusevich of Memorial as saying that Stanislav Markelov, the human rights lawyer who represented the family of Elza Kungaeva—the 18-year-old Chechen woman murdered by Russian Army Colonel Yuri Budanov—and who was murdered together with journalist Anastasia Baburova in Moscow on January 19, was interested in the Israilov case and had planned to become involved in it.
Kadyrov’s spokesman Lema Gudaev recently late last month dismissed press reports speculating that Kadyrov may have been involved in the murder of Umar Israilov and Stanislav Markelov, among others, insisting that such reports were part of an ongoing large-scale information war aimed at Kadyrov and his administration (North Caucasus Weekly, January 30).
Meanwhile, Austrian authorities on January 30 released two men who were among seven Chechens arrested in connection with Umar Israilov’s murder two days earlier, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported. A spokesman for the Vienna prosecutor’s office, Gerhard Jarosch, said that while the accusations against the two “are not enough to justify preventive detention,” they are still under investigation.
The Moscow Times reported on February 3 that an Austrian court had ordered five of the remaining suspects in the Israilov murder case to stay in jail and quoted Jarosch as saying that the court’s ruling to keep them incarcerated must be reviewed after two weeks. A sixth Chechen detained after Israilov’s murder also remains in jail.
AFP reported that Israilov’s family is planning legal action against Austria. Israilov had told Austrian authorities he felt threatened and asked for protection, but he was not provided with protection.