Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 8 Issue: 4

Kommersant reported on January 24 that Russia’s Foreign Ministry had told the delegation from the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that an investigation was conducted in Chechnya in connection to several Interior Ministry officers who had appeared in four videos allegedly showing Chechen Interior Ministry personnel committing rights violations. An article by Anna Politkovskaya published in Novaya gazeta last March included her descriptions of and some clips from footage sent to her that was apparently shot by someone using a cell phone camera. One clip appeared to show the aftermath of a road accident involving a car belonging to Chechen siloviki and a Russian armored personnel carrier. Several Russian servicemen could be seen lying on the ground, apparently either dead or unconscious. The clip then showed, as Politkovskaya described in the article, “people in Kadyrovite uniforms” beating another federal serviceman, who apparently had also been traveling in the APC. Another clip showed a group of men wearing the camouflage uniforms of the Kadyrov-controlled Chechen security services forcing two men into the trunk of a car. Ramzan Kadyrov appeared to be among this group of uniformed men (Chechnya Weekly, March 23, 2006).

Acting Assistant Chechen Prosecutor Nadezhda Nazarova told Nezavisimaya gazeta last October that the republican prosecutor’s office was working on identifying the individuals who appeared in the video recordings that Politkovskaya had written about, including the person described as resembling Ramzan Kadyrov. Nazarova told the newspaper that her office had examined the videos, but that “there was no confirmation of Ramzan Kadyrov’s presence on them,” that he “could not have been on them anyway” and that there was “no confirmation of the presence of members of his entourage on them either.”

The newspaper further quoted Nazarova as saying: “In the files it says that personnel from the Nevsky Internal Affairs Ministry regiment – the regiment guarding the oil complex – were at the scene of the incident (the episode involving the abduction). The regiment is comprised of former members of Akhmad Kadyrov’s security staff, but at the time it was officially part of the republican Internal Affairs Ministry structure.” Since no individuals were identified, the case had been “suspended,” Nazarova said. “I cannot say whether the case will go any further,” she said. “I can officially say that work on the identification of the individuals is still proceeding. The suspension of a case does not mean it has been closed” (Chechnya Weekly, October 26, 2006).

However, Kommersant, on January 24, quoted Chechen Prosecutor Valery Kuznetsov as saying that criminal cases had been launched on the basis of only two of the four videos. “There were four videos of very poor quality, shot on a mobile phone,” Kuznetsov told the newspaper. “On one of them, some person was pushed into a car trunk, on another, there was someone who looked like Ramzan Kadyrov in a sauna with girls, on the third, there was the incident of the beating of servicemen, and on the fourth, there was the beating of a Chechen girl, whose head was shaved and painted green for marital infidelity. We examined all of these cases: in the first two, no criminal charges were filed, but in the second and third, criminal charges were filed in May of last year.” Kuznetsov said, however, that the criminal case involving the beating of the servicemen was dropped because it was impossible to identify the apparent perpetrators shown on the video. The case involving the abuse of the girl, however, was investigated and will be sent to a court in the next two weeks, the Chechen prosecutor said. When asked whether Chechen Interior Ministry personnel were involved, Kuznetsov answered: “Let’s wait a little while: as soon as we transfer the case to court, I’ll tell you everything. For the time being, I’ll say that it concerns at least one employee of the Chechen MVD.”

The girl whose head was shaved was Malika Soltaeva, a 23-year-old resident of the town of Argun. As Kommersant noted, the incident was detailed by the Memorial human rights on its website. It was also described by Tanya Lokshina, chair of the Demos Center for Information and Human Rights Research in Moscow, in an interview she gave to the Caucasus Times just a week after she returned from a trip to Chechnya last May (Chechnya Weekly, May 25, 2006). New York Times correspondent C.J. Chivers wrote about the incident and posted the video on the newspaper’s website last August 30.

According to Kommersant, Soltaeva was kidnapped by unknown persons in Argun in February 2006 and returned home a month later, after which her husband left her, accusing her of infidelity and taking their child. After that, people in camouflage beat her, shaved her head and painted it green, painting a green cross on her forehead. As the New York Times noted in its report about the incident, she was forced to confess, ordered to strip, and was beaten with wooden rods and hoses on her buttocks, arms, legs, hands, stomach and back, with one of the attackers demanding that she “turn and be condemned by Allah” so he could strike her more squarely.

Kommersant reported that relatives of Soltaeva said her attackers were members of Chechnya’s Anti-Terrorism Center (ATC), a unit controlled by Ramzan Kadyrov that has since been disbanded, and that the victim herself claimed that these same people had kidnapped her at her husband’s request. The perpetrators then seized an apartment from Soltaeva’s family, whose members were threatened when they complained to the Argun police. Memorial reported that the threats were made by the former commander of the ATC’s Argun branch, Magomed Israpilov, also known as “Mamak,” along with his brothers Akhmed and Ramazan and five of their friends. They allegedly told Soltaeva and her relatives that they (the perpetrators) had “committed many crimes” and were not afraid either of the police or the prosecutor’s office. An investigator with the Argun police, identified only as Makhmudov, who had allegedly witnessed Israpilov threatening the victim and her relatives, told them that after the New York Times ran its article and posted the video of the incident, Kadyrov had called “the entire police” onto the carpet “demanding action” and that relatives were supposed to “take Malika away” so that no further clamor would be raised.

“Which of the persons mentioned will…be accused by the prosecutor of Chechnya for persecuting Malika Soltaeva is as yet unknown; however, considering that this criminal case was launched directly after the article by Anna Politkovskaya was published, it is not surprising that her American colleagues connected it to the journalist’s murder,” Kommersant wrote. “It is also not surprising that the Chechen authorities deny the fact of a criminal investigation in connection with the employees of the local MVD on the basis of Ms. Politkovskaya’s material – the members of the ATC had a special status; in Chechnya, they were simply called kadyrovtsy. However, after that service was dissolved, the majority of its members became policemen or soldiers of the ‘Sever’ and ‘Yug’ battalions of the Internal Troops controlled by the Chechen authorities.”