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Screenshots from the video messages recorded by Patimat Saygitova and Aishat Saygidguseynova

‘This is already a tradition’ Russian police launch probe following the alleged abduction of two women from a shelter in Kazan

Source: Meduza
Screenshots from the video messages recorded by Patimat Saygitova and Aishat Saygidguseynova
Screenshots from the video messages recorded by Patimat Saygitova and Aishat Saygidguseynova
Mamin Dom

On Monday evening, October 18, reports emerged that police officers had broken into a women’s shelter in Kazan in search of two young women from Dagestan. The alleged officers took the women from the shelter, along with a small child, and handed them over to their relatives. On Tuesday, the father of one of the women told journalists that they had both decided to return home of their own free will. In turn, regional police officials said they were conducting a check due to abduction allegations lodged against “people in police uniforms.” According to human rights activists, the two, twenty-year-old women in question — identified as Aishat Saygidguseynova and Patimat Saygitova — had been in contact with them for a year, seeking help escaping abusive marriages. Meduza breaks down what we know about the incident so far.

‘I’ll gouge out her eyes’

On Saturday, October 16, Aishat Saygidguseynova and Patimat Saygitova, both 20 years old, left their native Dagestan, bringing Aishat’s two-year-old daughter along with them. Around 4:00 a.m. on Monday, October 18, the two young women made it to Mamin Dom, a crisis shelter for women and children located in Kazan.

En route, the two friends both sent video messages to the police via the Interior Ministry’s website, and wrote statements addressed to Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev (Meduza’s newsroom has the videos and copies of the statements at its disposal). In their appeals, Aishat and Patimat confirmed that they left home of their own free will; they asked police officials not to put them on a missing persons list and not to disclose their whereabouts to their relatives.

Nevertheless, on Monday evening, local police officers broke into the women’s shelter in Kazan and took Patimat, Aishat, and her daughter away. The women weren’t heard from again until after 10:00 o’clock that night. In a message (seen by Meduza) to journalist and human rights activist Svetlana Anokhina, Patimat wrote: “The police came to the center and we went to the station, everything was decided there and we are returning home. Everything’s fine. Don’t worry.” The 20-year-old also said that the decision was voluntary and that no one was pressuring them. But according to staff at the women’s shelter, just a few hours earlier, Aishat and Patimat were discussing different plans: they wanted to find jobs and enroll Aishat’s daughter in kindergarten.

On Tuesday, October 19, RBC reported that, according to Patimat’s father, both young women are now back home in Dagestan’s capital city, Makhachkala. He also told journalists that the decision to return home was theirs, claiming that the police never came looking for them at all. Moreover, he claimed that activist Svetlana Anokhina had “twisted the girls’ minds and taken [them] away” and threatened to “catch [her] and gouge out [her] eyes.”

In turn, the press service for Tatarstan’s Interior Ministry told RBC that a probe is underway into the reported abduction of the two Dagestani women by people wearing police uniforms.

‘Put up with it for the sake of your child’

Activist Svetlana Anokhina told Meduza that Aishat and Patimat are childhood friends, whose lives followed similar trajectories. The statements they gave upon arriving at the Kazan women’s shelter both begin with a description of being married off against their will — at the ages of 17 and 18. They go on to describe the unbearable atmospheres they faced at home, recalling abuse, being unable to leave the house with permission, and being denied opportunities to study and work. Patimat wrote that these conditions caused her to suffer miscarriage. Aishat told the staff at the women’s shelter that her husband — who she literally met on her wedding night— systematically forced her to have sex.

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According to Aishat, she never finished school; her father simply bought her a certificate of completion for ninth grade. In practice, her entire education consisted of one year at an Islamic school for girls. According to her family, a woman’s task is to serve her husband and raise children, and this, they believe, doesn’t require an education. In her statement to the Interior Ministry, Aishat wrote her given name in place of a signature.

Aishat also spoke about being afraid of her father. The independent news site Daptar identified him as Aligadzhi Saygidguseynov, an Islamic cleric and theologian who heads the Dagestani muftiate’s education department in the Khasavyurt district. “When my husband said that I downloaded Instagram on my phone, that I didn’t smile at him, I was like a sick woman the entire time, [and] my father said that all of this was [my] fault, he said: ‘It’s your husband, die there next to him and put up with it for the sake of your child’,” Aishat recalled in correspondence with human rights activists. 

Aishat also told activists that she worried about her daughter and wanted a different life for her.

‘The girls seemed defenseless’

The two friends first sought help a year ago, when they contacted the human rights group Marem. “We resumed correspondence four times,” activist Svetlana Anokhina told Meduza. “I postponed the evacuation because the girls seemed too ill equipped for independent life, defenseless. It was as if they were specifically raised like that.”

Anokhina feared that Aishat and Patimat wouldn’t be able to stand the conditions at the shelter and would be unable to build new lives. Both girls have no education, have never worked, and were under the constant supervision of their families, Anokhina said. Their fate was always determined by someone else: first by their older relatives, and then by their husbands.

Nevertheless, the two young women were serious about running away. Since they were raised in the Muslim tradition and adhere to religious views, activists decided to send them to Tatarstan.

After Aishat and Patimat left home, their relatives began looking for them right away. They identified the vehicle that took the two young women to Volgograd (on the way to Kazan) almost immediately and, through the driver, made contact with Svetlana Anokhina.

Anokhina told Meduza that she received a phone call from the Khasavyurt police on Sunday, October 17, the day after Aishat and Patimat left Dagestan. She explained the situation to the officer and sent the police copies of the women’s statements, as well as the status of the appeals they filed on the Interior Ministry’s website. According to Anokhina, the police responded by implying that the girls may be involved with the Islamic State. Anokhina also received a phone call from Aishat’s father. “He spoke very politely,” the activist remembered. “He said that he understood everything, that he’d allow his daughter to get divorced. He lied, of course.”

The human rights activists don’t exactly know how the women’s families discovered their whereabouts in Kazan. But Anokhina suspects that Aishat and Patimat probably went against recommendations to stay indoors and left the women’s shelter to go to the store.

She also describes the behavior of the people in police uniforms, the alleged abductors, as typical of these situations. “They just take [the women] and hand them over to their relatives,” Anokhina explained. “This is already a tradition. [If runaway] girls go to the police, they’re screwed.” Human rights activists already managed to find the two women a lawyer, but they haven’t been able to arrange an in-person meeting. 

Aliya Baynazora, the president of the Blagie Dela Foundation, the charity that runs Mamin Dom, told Meduza that the people in police uniforms showed up at the women’s shelter late in the evening. “[At the time] there wasn’t an administrator at the shelter, but the building was closed. This is our building — the gates, the doors, everything is locked. People in uniform came and just took the girls away. There was a half-eaten dinner on the table. One can only imagine that they were taken out by force.”

Story by Anna Vilisova

Translation by Eilish Hart

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