The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, ruled on June 21 that the Russian authorities were responsible for the 2003 killing of Zura Bitieva, her husband, one of their sons and her brother, and ordered the Russian government to pay Bitieva’s daughter, who lives in Germany, 85,000 euros ($114,000) in damages. The Associated Press reported that the court ruled that Russia had failed to properly investigate the killings, which Bitieva’s daughter said were carried out by a group of masked men belonging to the Russian special forces. The court stated that evidence from witnesses indicated the killings were carried out by state servicemen, based on descriptions of the way the killers were dressed, the vehicles they used, and the fact that they were able to travel unhindered during curfew hours. The court also said witness testimony on the assailants’ methods of working – such as checking passports, putting hoods over detainees’ heads, and the execution style of the killings – also led it to conclude that Russian personnel were behind the slayings.
Citing the Memorial human rights group, Newsru.com reported on June 21 that Zura Bitieva took part in anti-war demonstrations during both the first and second Russian military campaigns in Chechnya and had also worked with international non-governmental organizations. In 2000, she and her son Idris Iduev were taken from their home in the village of Kalinovskaya in Chechnya’s Naursk district. According to Memorial, she was taken to the notorious Chehnokozovo remand prison, where she spent 24 days in a small cell that housed some ten women and was fed only once a day. Despite having heart problems, Bitieva was refused medical treatment during her incarceration except for one time, when she was taken to the Naursk district hospital after losing consciousness. She was released in March 2000, after which she filed suit against Russia in the Strasbourg court, charging that her protections against torture and her right to freedom and personal inviolability as guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights had been violated.
In 2001, Zura Bitieva once again began participating in protests against human rights violations in Chechnya, and in early February 2003, she was part of group of women who demanded that a mass grave discovered near the village of Kapustino in Naursk district be unearthed. On May 21, 2003, a group of armed people wearing uniforms and masks shot Bitieva, her husband Ramzan Iduev, her son Idris Iduev and her brother Abubakar Bitiev in their home. Her daughter Luiza Idueva-Bisieva, who was not home that evening, and a nephew, who hid under a bed, survived. The perpetrators of the crime have not been found.
Russia has three months to appeal the Strasbourg-based court’s verdict. As Reuters reported on June 21, the court rejected most of the accusations against Russia filed by another Chechen, Vyacheslav Kantyrev, who had charged that he had been kept in inhumane conditions during his detention in 2002, ruling that there was not enough evidence to show he had been ill-treated.
The executive director of the Memorial rights center, Tatyana Kasatkina, quoted Memorial lawyer Kirill Koroteyev, who represented the plaintiff in the Bitieva case in Strasbourg, as saying that the verdict in the case represented “an important step in establishing the truth and overcoming lawlessness in Chechnya, Kavkazky Uzel reported on June 22. Koroteyev also said the conclusions reached by the European Court for Human Rights should force the Russian authorities to identify and punish those guilty of Zura Bitieva’s murder, to pay compensation to her relatives and to identify those responsible for the existence of the Chernokozovo remand prison and the inhumane detention conditions there. The ruling, the latest in a series of verdicts against Russia in the Strasbourg court, “represents one more argument for a more thorough investigation of the situation in the republic,” Koroteyev said.