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Executed in Russia ‘Novaya Gazeta’ investigation reveals evidence of extra-judicial killings in Chechnya

Source: Meduza
Elena Afonina / TASS

The independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta has published a new investigation into alleged extra-judicial killings carried out by security forces in Russia’s Chechnya. Reportedly, at least 27 people were killed in the region’s capital, Grozny, in January 2017. In the first part of the investigation, published on Monday, February 15, correspondent Elena Milashina references official documents allegedly obtained from the Chechen Interior Ministry, which indicate that law enforcement officers did in fact detain a number of the deceased. According to police officials in the region, however, these arrests never took place. Meduza summarizes the main findings from the investigation.

In April 2017, Novaya Gazeta passed a list of 30 murdered residents of Chechnya to the Russian Investigative Committee. This list included 27 people who were detained during special police operations in December 2016 and January 2017. Novaya Gazeta reported that these 27 Chechens were killed at the end of January 2017 on territory belonging to the Akhmat Kadyrov Patrol Regiment; two of them were shot and the rest were strangled. 

The Russian Investigative Committee spent nearly a year carrying out a pre-investigation check at the newspaper’s request. Detectives confirmed the deaths of four people. They allegedly found two others alive and presented them to Russia’s Human Rights Commissioner, Tatyana Moskalkova. It later emerged that the two men who met with Moskalkova were the brothers of two of the detainees reportedly killed in January 2017 — Mokhma Muskiyev and Shamkhan Yusupov. Allegedly, their siblings were forced into deceiving the human rights commissioner.

Another three people from Novaya Gazeta’s list were detained, torture, and killed during an organized crackdown targeting LGBTQ+ people in Chechnya in late February 2017.

The remaining 18 people on the list had criminal cases opened against them in the summer and fall of 2017, and were added to an international wanted list on charges of involvement in terrorist groups in Syria. Nevertheless, in March 2018, the Investigative Committee formally declined to open a criminal investigation at Novaya Gazeta’s request — detectives never returned to these cases following this refusal.

Novaya Gazeta, on the other hand, continued its investigation on the basis of official documents from the Chechen Interior Ministry obtained by their journalists. These included tables with the photos and personal data of more than 160 detainees, as well as information on the results of investigations carried out by Chechen security officers. The newspaper’s journalists found that these documents included information on nearly all (26) of the people included on their list. The detainees were photographed in several places against recognizable backgrounds. For example, Novaya Gazeta’s journalists were able to trace a wall with a distinctive skirting board — as well as a boiler room pipe, to which some of the detainees were handcuffed, — to the Akhmat Kadyrov Regiment.

Meanwhile, the heads of Chechnya’s relevant security forces deny that any of the people on Novaya Gazeta’s list were ever detained by the police. This comes in spite of the fact that one of the detainees, Adam Dasayev, appeared in a segment aired on Chechen state television on January 11, 2017 (the day after his arrest). In the news report, Dasayev is seen being interrogated by Ramzan Kadyrov himself — sitting next to the head of Chechnya is the commander of the Akhamt Kadyrov Regiment, Aslan Israskhanov. According to Novaya Gazeta, Adam Dasayev is “number 31” in the Chechen Interior Ministry’s table of detainees. 

Novaya Gazeta’s list also included 12 residents of Chechnya who were “registered” by officers from the SOBR “Terek” — Chechnya’s Special Rapid Response Unit (SOBR) of the Russian National Guard. These detentions are connected to the events of December 17, 2016, when a traffic police officer in downtown Grozny fired shots at a car that struck another traffic officer. There were six people in the car in total: three were killed during the shootout and another three — Madina Shakhbiyeva, Islam Bergayev, and Sakhab Yusupov — were hospitalized with injuries. 

Bergayev and Yusupov allegedly died of their injuries two days later. However, they both appear in a table of detainees arrested by officers from the SOBR “Terek.” And the medical reports on their deaths are not only identical but also refer to the patients as female. 

On December 20, 2016, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack in Grozny: the group published a video on its website showing 11 Chechens taking an oath of allegiance to terrorist leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Bergayev can be seen in the middle of the group, but Novaya Gazeta points out that this recording wasn’t included in the criminal case file. Upon examining similar videos attributed to the Islamic State, the journalists found other recordings in which some of the people from their list first swear allegiance to the Islamic State and then, wearing the same clothes and decorations, renounce the extremist group. Novaya Gazeta concludes that the recordings were staged to incriminate the men as terrorists.

The newspaper also managed to find a witness to the extra-judicial killings — an officer from the Akhmat Kadyrov Regiment who, in his words, was directly involved in arresting these people and guarding them inside a secret prison. This officer witnessed the executions of at least 13 of the 27 people included on Novaya Gazeta’s list.

According to Novaya Gazeta, the witness contacted the newspaper back in 2017 and recently, they’ve managed to get him and his family out of Russia. Novaya Gazeta emphasizes that this officer wasn’t personally involved in torturing and killing detainees. The newspaper has promised to publish an interview with this witness in the near future.

Summary by Pytor Lokhov

Translated by Eilish Hart

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