Russian Security Services Responsible for Majority of Kidnappings in the North Caucasus

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 9 Issue: 48

(Source: Caucasian Knot)

The North Caucasus is the only part of Russia where the authorities engage in systematic abductions – a practice that has existed since the first war in Chechnya in the mid-1990s. According to the Center for Civil Assistance to the Search for Missing Persons in the North Caucasus, created under the auspices of the North Caucasus peacemaking mission undertaken by the late General Aleksandr Lebed, 7,732 people in the region disappeared, and the fate of 7,377 of them remains unknown (www.rozysk.org/people?page=369). However, the government does not recognize these figures and instead claims only 2,090 people in the region disappeared (www.doshdu.ru/copy_of_novosti/pogibli-i-propali-na-kavkaze).
 
Independent sources like the human rights group, Memorial, have documented dozens of disappearances in the North Caucasus in 2011, based on media reports. At least 70 people were kidnapped in the region last year – 31 in Dagestan, 20 in Chechnya, 15 in Ingushetia and four in Kabardino-Balkaria. In 2010, at least 50 people were kidnapped across the region – 18 in Dagestan, 18 in Ingushetia, six in Chechnya and six in Kabardino-Balkaria (http://kabardino-balkaria.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/198756/). Thus the number of people kidnapped in the region increased by 50 percent in 2011 in comparison to the previous year.
 
Residents of the region take a dim view of the law enforcement practice of grabbing people without giving any explanation or presenting any paperwork authorizing the arrest. The kidnappings allow law enforcement agents to bypass the regular control mechanisms mandated by the prosecutor general. So the unlawfully detained person becomes completely defenseless in the hands of the police, who can do whatever they want to extract a confession from the detainee. If the latter does not plead guilty, he is usually found dead and described by the police as a rebel who resisted arrest.
 
When a high profile person is kidnapped and there are suspicions that he was kidnapped by the rebels for a ransom, the news rapidly spreads across all Russian media (www.lifenews.ru/news/72747). However, when an ordinary person is kidnapped in Makhachkala or Nazran, their relatives have to search to find where that person has been detained, and the Russian media largely ignores such events. People believe the abductions are being carried out by law enforcement personnel and have been forced to go into the streets to protest (www.islamnews.ru/news-98841.html). Last November 25, several thousand demonstrators took to the streets of Makhachkala to protest abductions and other human rights abuses in Dagestan (www.youtube.com/watch?v=JEBJ-pXyii8). That demonstration posed a double threat to the authorities, given that the protesters marched in central Makhachkala shouting Islamic slogans, which seriously frightened the Dagestani authorities. The first mass rally under Islamic slogans in the North Caucasus, the demonstration was organized by the radical Muslims known as Salafis (www.gazeta.ru/news/lenta/2011/11/25/n_2110270.shtml). While the protesters accused the Dagestani Interior Ministry of infringing on their rights, they did not make such accusations against the head of the republic or the federal authorities.
 
All kidnappings of this type are a result of the government’s attempts to reduce tensions caused by the armed resistance and the involvement of young people in Salafism. The authorities perceive it as an ideology in general opposed to the government. In fact, however, this is a deeply mistaken view held by pseudo-researchers and politicians who became used to the regulated Islam represented by the loyalist spiritual boards in the North Caucasus republics. Islamic teaching cannot be inherently opposed to the government. There have been no attempts by the authorities to understand the causes of Salafism’s rapid spread among young people and the eclipsing of Sufism, which had seemed to provide a reliable basis for Islam in Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia. People in the region who are the targets of official abductions are normally those who do not share the religious views of the official Muslim clerics.
 
The most recent kidnappings in Ingushetia clearly implicate the law enforcement authorities. Even the president of Ingushetia was forced to admit that “sometimes” it is possible to trace them back to the law enforcement bodies. “When they come early in the morning in armored personnel carriers, trucks and other military equipment and take people away, it would be stupid to assert that this is not the work of the siloviki, but, say, Doku Umarov’s work,” Ingush president Yunus-Bek Yevkurov said, adding that law enforcement personnel were implicated in five out of eight kidnappings in 2011 (www.russia-on.ru/16995). This was a very important admission by the head of a republic, one that will allow Yevkurov to soothe the tensions between his government and the republic’s residents. But his comments will also help rights activists, who can now refer to Yevkurov’s words and make corresponding conclusions in their reports for the next several years.
 
On February 29, the accountant for the Ingush human rights organization Mashr, Murad Yandiev, disappeared (www.regnum.ru/news/kavkaz/1504957.html#ixzz1o5tiNEwq). However, the police announced two day later that “the law enforcement agents arrested four people, including Yandiev, who possessed Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami literature, outlawed in Russia.” A police source said that Yandiev was held in detention at a police station in Nazran (http://ingushetia.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/202173/). This kind of admission by police is very rare, and was probably a reaction to the position of the republic’s head, since finding out where someone is being held in detention usually takes much longer.
 
According to independent sources, people in Chechnya who are kidnapped by siloviki are frequently later said to have been killed in clashes with federal forces (http://voinenet.ru/novosti/operativnaya-informatsiya/40312.html). People in Chechnya can be kidnapped for disloyalty to the government, sympathy for the rebels and refusal to follow Sufi rituals.
 
Kabardino-Balkaria is not much different, except for the fact that those abducted have greater chances for survival (http://www.kavkaz-news.info/portal/cnid_223403/alias__Caucasus-Info/lang__en/tabid__2434/default.aspx). The motives of the law enforcement agents who kidnap people in this republic are the same as those in other republics of the North Caucasus. Thus, in the 12 years since the start of the second Chechen military campaign, kidnappings remain the main means used by law enforcement to put pressure on the militants and their families. This, however, further radicalizes the population and deepens the crisis in the North Caucasus.