Two recent conferences provide markedly different views on the situation in Dagestan. While the local government blames Islamic fundamentalism, human rights activists decry human rights violations. While Makhachkala’s leaders preach religious tolerance, law-enforcement officials carry out kidnappings, torture, and executions.
On June 6 the government of Dagestan sponsored a conference, “Burning Issues of Fighting Religious and Political Extremism,” in Makhachkala, the republican capital. Many high-ranking officials from both the republican and federal level participated.
Addressing the conference participants, Dagestani President Mukhu Aliev offered many insightful ideas about how to defeat the local insurgency with humanitarian methods such as religious education for young people, pro-Russian propaganda, and not turning the war on terror into a war against Islam (see EDM, June 15). Nevertheless, it is still unclear exactly how local authorities are going to implement these ideas in practice. There have not been any announced changes in educational or propaganda curriculums. Instead, there are the same primitive propagandistic clichés incorrectly describing the rebels as Wahhabis and accusing some mysterious foreign anti-Russian forces of sponsoring them from abroad. The authorities still regard all independent Muslim organizations in Dagestan as hostile.
On June 15, Russian human rights activists held a press conference in Moscow to discuss key issues regarding Dagestan that had not been mentioned during the official conference. Lev Ponomarev, head of the All-Russia Public Movement “For Human Rights,” announced that although 18 men had been kidnapped in Dagestan during April and May, criminal proceedings have been initiated in only two cases. He explained that relatives of kidnapped people very often do not turn to the republican prosecutor’s office or human rights organizations because they are afraid that other members of their families could also be kidnapped. Ponomarev bluntly said that law-enforcement agencies are behind these kidnappings. He compared the current situation in Dagestan with the situation in Kabardino-Balkaria, another North Caucasus republic, two years earlier. At that time local policemen were illegally detaining young men, and these violent methods eventually provoked a rebel attack on the regional capital in October 2005. Ponomarev says that human rights violations in Dagestan and Kabardino-Balkaria look very similar.
Mothers of the missing in Dagestan also shared their stories at Ponomarev’s conference. Svetlana Isaeva reported that her son, Isa Isaev, had disappeared when the police searched for rebels in a neighboring apartment. Gulnara Rustamova said that her brother had been persecuted because the security services suspected him of having links with terrorists, while her son-in-law had been kidnapped, presumably by policemen.
One of the kidnapped, Arsen Janbatyrov, had been freed. He related how he was kidnapped in Dagestan and then taken to Khankala, the main Russian military base in neighboring Chechnya. He was interrogated by police officers there, severely beaten, and tortured.
Despite his resulting health problems, Janbatyrov is a lucky man, since many people are simply executed after their interrogations. Rustamova told conference participants that security officials sold the corpses of people who had been kidnapped and shot dead in Khankala to their relatives for $20,000 per body. Relatives of a kidnapped person have to pay a $50,000 ransom if they want to get him back alive (Regnum, June 15).
Nevertheless, money is not the main reason people are kidnapped in Dagestan. As Ponomarev told Radio Liberty, the authorities use these kidnappings [perhaps more accurately “illegal detentions” or “extra-judicial executions”] to attack the independent Muslim movements in Dagestan, which they regard as the backbone of the local insurgency. “The distinctive feature of the recent kidnappings in Dagestan,” Ponomarev told Radio Liberty, “is that the young men who have disappeared could be called the ‘wrong Muslims’ [i.e., in the wrong place at the wrong time]. They went to the oldest mosque in Makhachkala, a gathering place for those who ignore the imams who are supported by the official Spiritual Directorate of Russian Muslims.” He continued, “Many of the kidnapped have been threatened and called Wahhabis even before they were kidnapped. Their relatives have no doubts that these people were kidnapped by the local police or federal security agencies” (Radio Liberty, June 20).
Rustamova told the conference participants that her uncle, who worked for the organized crime division of the Dagestan police, had informed her family that her son-in-law had been detained by his colleagues. “They were beating him in front of my eyes, but I could not do anything,” the uncle said. The fate of Rustamova’s son-in-law is still unknown (Radio Liberty, June 20).
According to Jamestown sources in Chechnya, illegally detained people in Dagestan are sent to the Khankala military base for interrogation. These detentions and kidnappings are controlled by the Federal Security Service and the Special Organized Crime Department that has been incorporated into the Russian Military Group in Chechnya. Colonel Ruslan Gitinov, the former head of the Dagestan police organized crime division in the 1990s, now heads the special department. Gitinov spends most of his time at Khankala, because he has escaped several assassination attempts in Dagestan and has been sentenced to death by the insurgents. Gitinov deals both with Chechen and Dagestani prisoners, hoping to extract as much information as possible from them about the militants. The problem is that whether you know something about guerillas or not, whether you are a member of the underground movement or you are just a true Muslim going to a mosque quite often, you have little chance to return home alive after a meeting with Gitinov and his colleagues. Khankala prisoners have no lawyers and no hopes for justice.
During the official conference in Makhachkala on June, 6 Nikolai Patrushev, the Russian FSB chief, expressed his concern that radical Islam in the North Caucasus is pushing away more traditional forms of Islam. It seems that Patrushev considers the kidnappings and killings of random Muslims the best way to fight Wahhabism in the Russian Federation.