A human rights activist from Amnesty International was kidnapped by security forces while reporting on protests in the Russian Republic of Ingushetia, the group has reported.
In a press-release on Monday, Amnesty said that Oleg Kozlovsky was kidnapped on 6 October in the Ingush capital Magas.
[Read on OC Media: Protests in Ingushetia ‘on pause’]
According to Kozlovsky, his kidnappers introduced themselves as employees of Ingushetia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs working to counter ‘extremism’.
He said the threatened him, tried to recruit him, before releasing him the next day.
‘They demanded from me the names of my contacts in Ingushetia and threatened to kill my wife and children if I report what happened’, Kozlovsky said.
Kozlovsky and his family have temporarily left Russia, Amnesty said.
The group reported that Kozlovsky arrived in Magas on 5 October to monitor protests over an Ingush–Chechen border deal signed on 26 September.
According to the Amnesty, on the evening of 6 October a person who ‘introduced himself as a representative of protest organisers, lured Kozlovsky into his car under the pretext of organising a meeting with the protesters’.
Instead, according to Amnesty, Kozlovsky was taken outside the city to an area in neighbouring North Ossetia, undressed, beaten, and subjected to a mock execution.
Kozlovsky told the BBC that, when he did not agree to cooperate they threatened to turn him over to Chechen Head Ramzan Kadyrov. ‘Do you want to get acquainted with Ramzan Akhmatovich?’
Kozlovsky said they left him near Vladikavkaz airport, in North Ossetia.
‘The question was that I and my family should go to a safe place, because the threats that sounded — I took them pretty seriously. I didn’t think that they would kill me there in open field, because this would have given no real benefit to them, but the threats to my family I could not discard’, Kozlovsky told the BBC.
On 15 October, Kozlovsky told the radio station Ekho Moskvy that his departure was temporary and that he intended to return to Russia soon.
He said he was concerned about the complexity of the work of his colleagues in the North Caucasus.
‘Now, of course, I’m most worried about how this situation will develop further, and also what is it like for people in Ingushetia itself and in this wider [North Caucasus] region in general, who are engaged in any kind of public activity, not really approved by the authorities, and who are unable to leave the country’.
After news of Kozlovsky’s apparent abduction broke, the head of Ingushetia, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, said he did not know anything about this, and doubted that it had actually happened. Yevkurov suggested that Kozlovsky invented the kidnapping as a provocation.
Kozlovsky responded to Yevkurov on Twitter, saying he had submitted an application to the Investigative Committee. ‘And what have they done since then?’, he asked.
Ingushetia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs stated that they had not received an application from Kozlovsky, and that the information about the kidnapping would be verified.
A local protest activist and journalist who wished to remain anonymous told OC Media that the style of Kozlovsky’s kidnapping was similar to that others had experienced from the Centre for Countering Extremism (Centre E).
[Read on OC Media: Seven officials sentenced in Ingush anti-extremism centre torture case]
According to them, Kozlovsky came to Ingushetia to investigate cases of unlawful acts from employees of Centre E, and the security forces decided to stop his human rights activities.
They concluded it was possible this was done to intimidate journalists and public figures, since Kozlovsky was one of the first to come to Magas after the protests began.