An Ingush domestic abuse victim seeking asylum in Armenia was allegedly temporarily placed in police custody after being reported missing by her uncle, who rights groups claim was allowed to meet her at the police station.
On Tuesday, the Armenian police found Fatima Zurabova, 21, in Ashtarak, a town northwest of Yerevan, and took her into their custody in Yerevan.
Armenia’s Investigative Committee said that a friend of her relatives had reported her missing to the Armenian authorities on 10 November.
Before being taken into police custody, Zurabova published a video stating that she had left Russia voluntarily after being subjected to abuse by her family. She added that she taken nothing valuable from her home, and asked her family not to look for her.
On the day that Zurabova was taken to Yerevan, her uncle, Yusup Zurabov, who is an Ingush MP, flew to Armenia’s capital and went to the police station where his niece was being held. Marem, a North Caucasus women’s rights group that facilitated her escape, claim that the police confiscated Zurabova’s phone and locked her in a room with her uncle.
Zurabov also served as Ingushetia’s minister of economy and is an active member of United Russia, a party that supports Russian President Vladimir Putin.
A spokesperson for the head of Armenia’s Investigative Committee stated on Thursday that Zurabova was not under arrest, and did not meet with any relatives during her time in Armenia’s investigation department.
Armenia’s Human Rights Defender’s Office added that police reported that Zurabova had been transferred to a ‘safe space’.
At risk in Armenia
On Wednesday, Marem told Holod Media that Zurabova had approached them for help in late September, saying that since she was 15, she had been frequently beaten by her family for ‘preventative purposes’.
‘They beat her with a belt for being insufficiently religious because of suspicions that at some point she might behave in a way that was inappropriate for Ingush society’, said Marem.
They also said that after each beating, the family would confiscate her phone so that she could not record evidence of her abuse.
Zurabova’s mother reportedly told her that her family planned to marry her off, while her brother pressured her into quitting her job.
Cherta Media quoted Zurabova as saying that her family would kill her if she returned to Ingushetia.
Marem added that Zurabova’s uncle had told the group that he had contacted his connections at ‘the top of Armenia’s Interior Ministry’, and had gained access to Zurabova’s phone, correspondence, and contacts.
He also demanded that Zurabova return to Ingushetia accompanied by lawyers, where she could declare ‘in front of all her relatives’ that she left Ingushetia of her own volition. He stated that he would subsequently ‘disown her because he does not need such a niece’.
He threatened to otherwise ‘deal with’ everyone who helped Zurabova, including the taxi driver who had taken her to the airport in Mineralnye Vody.
In an interview with RFE/RL, Marem said that Zurabov appeared to be ‘well-connected’, and that he had threatened to do ‘everything within his capabilities and character to those who organised it all’.
Marem’s founder, Svetlana Anokhina, added that Zurabov had threatened to accuse his niece of theft. Women fleeing domestic abuse in the North Caucasus are frequently detained on charges of theft and later returned to their abusers.
According to Marem, Zurabova has sought protection from the police in Armenia, who reportedly said that they could not assist her since she was subjected to abuse in Russia. The police also reportedly told her that she needed to apply for refugee status from the migration service in order to be eligible for state protection.
Armenia’s Human Rights Defender’s office told epress.am that their rapid response team had visited Zurabova on Wednesday.
RFE/RL also stated that Zurabova’s mother had flown to Armenia to see her daughter. Mamikon Hovsepyan, a human rights activist, criticised the police for letting Zurabova’s family see her in the police station.
‘Firstly, the support of the police and law enforcement officers was needed, which is not there’, Hovsepyan told RFE/RL. ‘They say if the abuser is the brother, and he is not in Armenia, then she is not in danger. They do not take into account that the whole family is in the police, that she is threatened, and they are just ready to let her go.’