North Caucasus Human Rights Activists Introduce Counter-Measures to Thwart Illegal Detentions

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 150

On July 29, six people from the village of Komsomolskoe in northern Dagestan’s Kizilyurt were abducted by unidentified assailants. On August 1, one of those abducted, Kaitmaz Magomedov, was released, apparently by law enforcement agencies without explanation (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, August 1). As of August 3, the whereabouts of the other five abducted persons were still unknown.

At least 22 people were abducted in Dagestan alone in 2009, and most of them were either found dead later or disappeared altogether. The Russian security services’ practice of circumventing the law by abducting suspected insurgents has continued into 2010. According to the Memorial human rights center, the police most frequently target young people who they suspect of being followers of fundamentalist Islam. Law enforcement officials reportedly revert to these practices in the hope of extracting information about the insurgency (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, August 1).

“If [some people] come to you and try to take you away with them without displaying an arrest order, without showing their ID’s, make noise,” Dagestani journalist Zarema Gasanova advised her compatriots in an article published in the newspaper Chernovik following another abduction by police in the republic, adding “Let all your neighbors take part in this [protest action]. The more witnesses [you have], the better. [Attention] neighbors, the situation is developing the way that today our safety is contingent upon our solidarity” (www.chernovik.ru, July 30).

In the case described by Gasanova, what turned out to be a police squad arrested a suspect taking his pregnant wife as well, as she resolutely clung to him. Having detained the man in an obscure building next to the police temporary detention center in Makhachkala, the police refused to recognize responsibility for the building, releasing him only after hours of beatings and pressure from human rights activists. Gasanova pointed out in her impromptu instructions for relatives of police abduction victims: “Only in the first few hours is there a chance you will get [your abducted relative]. Have the telephone numbers of human rights activists and journalists, as they [the law enforcement agencies] are most afraid of being highlighted in the news” (www.chernovik.ru, July 30).

Dagestan, with its vast diversity of peoples, is still trying to work out the right way of dealing with unlawful detentions by local law enforcement agencies. However, rallying in support of one’s neighbors has become a tried-and-true practice in Ingushetia, another North Caucasus republic that experiences frequent insurgent attacks and police abuse. In fact, Ingushetia’s society is so small and tightly knit that even the police often side with citizens who claim to have been abused or threatened. On August 3, a family living in Yandare, near Nazran, spotted a suspicious car with darkened windows near their house. After chasing the car and alerting the local police, the car was stopped at a police checkpoint and appeared to be packed with Federal Security Service (FSB) officers. The threatened family immediately wrote an open letter to Ingushetia’s President, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, asking him to protect them from the security services (www.ingushetiyaru.org, August 3).

Since 2002, 184 people have disappeared in tiny Ingushetia, according to the Mashr human rights organization. Almost all of them are believed to have been kidnapped by the Russian security services. Many of those abducted were political activists. Even Ingushetia’s deputy prosecutor responsible for overseeing FSB activities, Rashid Ozdoev, is believed to have been kidnapped by FSB personnel (http://www.mashr.org/docs/kidnapped-list.php).

Along with the continuing issue of abductions by the security services, authorities in the North Caucasus also continue to pressure the few remaining independent media outlets as well. The Dagestani newspaper Chernovik was suppressed by a court order in July. Ingushetia’s prosecutor has demanded the closure of the independent website Ingushetiyaru.org (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, July 27). Following the arrest of a well-known blogger in Ingushetia, Aleksei Dudko, an ethnic Russian convert to Islam, prosecutors also demanded that his blog on the Livejournal platform be closed. Dudko was arrested on charges of illegal drug possession in May 2010. Reportedly, Internet service providers in Ingushetia were ordered to cut off access to his blog, but the Internet providers were so frightened that they cut off all blogs hosted on Livejournal, including President Dmitry Medvedev’s (www.ingushetia.org, August 2).

Rights activists have argued that abductions and other unlawful actions by Russian state actors make achieving peace and stability in the North Caucasus an ever more elusive goal. The tradition of blood vengeance is still strong in many areas of the region. The security services either deem illegal detentions useful or, more likely, cannot make do without the practice due to the continuing breakdown of Moscow’s grip over the North Caucasus.

Zarema Gasanova advised the victims of police abuse: “All of this is very scary, but this is our reality. It is time to get used to it and learn how to survive in it. Do not lose heart. If something like this happens to your family, you need to act dispassionately. You will always have time to weep, as there seem to be plenty of these occasions coming up.”