Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 7 Issue: 40

Lidia Yusupova, the Chechen lawyer who worked for the Memorial human rights group’s office in Grozny and was nominated this year for the Nobel Peace Prize, talked in an interview with Kavkazky Uzel published on October 17 about the telephone threat she received on October 12, and more generally the threats faced by human rights activists in the North Caucasus. “I don’t even consider it a threat,” Yusupova, who is temporarily living in Moscow, told the website. “It was probably the state of mind of some sort of rather wretched person who doesn’t even understand the difference between a [Nobel] nominee and a laureate. When he called and asked in Chechen, ‘Are you a lawyer?’ I thought it was someone who needed assistance. But then he said: ‘You want to receive the prize. But will you live to see that?’…I tried to explain to him that it was only a nomination. Then he uttered: ‘You think you’ll be free to engage in your activity? Just dream about it.’ And he hung up the phone.”

Asked whether she received threats frequently, Yusupova said that while she was in Chechnya, threats generally came from “representatives of the power structures.” She said that last year following the death of “Save the Generation” head Murad Muradov (Chechnya Weekly, August 10; May 11, 2005), a search was carried out at that group’s offices, after which one of its employees, a driver, was summoned by the local Federal Security Service (FSB) branch for questioning. According to Yusupova, Save the Generation called Memorial and asked that a lawyer accompany the driver to the FSB interrogation. “I went with that young man,” she said. “We waited at the door for 20 minutes. Three people came out. They said to him, ‘Let’s go.’ I asked: ‘First tell me, in what capacity was he summoned – as a witness, a suspect, a defendant? On what basis have you summoned him?’ They began to press [him]: ‘What kind of man are you, to bring a woman along?’ One of them was very drunk. I explained that I was a lawyer and was representing him and wanted to know on what basis he had been summoned. ‘No, he’ll come in, but you won’t,’ they told me. ‘No’, I answered, ‘then he will not go. Either we will come in and leave together, or none of us will go with you.’”

Yusupova noted that there have been cases in which people “disappeared” in the Chechen government complex and FSB headquarters in Grozny, people who, as she put it, have gone inside but have never come out. When she told the Save the Generation driver that they were leaving, the FSB officers said: “You’ll regret listening to her.” After that, according to Yusupova, they demanded that she not speak to him in Chechen. “I explained: with respect, you came to work in Chechnya, and your inability to speak the language is your professional problem,” she said. “The one who was very drunk opened a pack of cigarettes and said: ‘We’ll still get you! Your ‘Memorial’ thinks it can meddle wherever it wants?’ I asked him: ‘Are you threatening me?’ The sober officers pulled him away. No one answered my question. We left. Afterwards, I explained to the guys from the organization [Save the Generation]: if any of you are summoned to the organs without notice, you must let us know.”

In an interview published on October 17 in the German news magazine Der Spiegel, Yusupova described the situation in Chechnya as being when in which, as before, “the sounds of shots are heard, Russian checkpoints are fired on, armed attacks and disappearances are taking place more and more often.” She added: “I would not call it stabilization when new houses and roads are being built but people continue to live without legal guarantees. During the last several years, working in the Chechen office of the Memorial organization in Grozny, I collected material about torture and violations of human rights in the Caucasus. I defended the interests of some victims in court. Sometimes those people who gave me information about torture and violence unexpectedly disappeared. By origin, they were for the most part from the mountainous regions of southern Chechnya.”

Yusupova told Der Spiegel that the most important thing that needs to be done in Chechnya is to bring all those who have committed crimes to justice. “Any crime, regardless of who committed it, must be punished,” she said. “The first Chechen war, which went on from 1994 to 1996, must be thoroughly studied. Unfortunately, politicians in Moscow, most likely, are not ready for this…Cases of mass shootings in which civilians died at the hands of Russian servicemen must be investigated.”

Commenting on the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, Yusopova told the German magazine: “The murder of Anna Politkovskaya was an act of intimidation aimed at everyone who sheds light on what is actually going on in Chechnya. I believe that my moral obligation is to continue the cause of Anna Politkovskaya. This is for me a matter of honor.”

Meanwhile, Memorial’s chairman, Oleg Orlov, resigned from the Presidential Council on Promoting Civil Society and Human Rights to protest President Vladimir Putin’s comments following the murder of Anna Politkovskaya that the journalist’s murder had done more harm to Russia than her articles ever had and that her influence inside Russia was minimal. “A few things are required of the authorities in such a situation – words of condolence, promises to punish those guilty of the murder and recognition of the services of a courageous journalist to society and the authorities,” Kommersant on October 17 quoted Orlov as saying. “The opposite happened. Given such a state of affairs, my work on the presidential council seems to be senseless to me.”