Up to 50 family members of government critics may have been abducted in Chechnya in a wave of mass kidnappings that began on 22 December. Chechnya Head Ramzan Kadyrov acknowledged reports of the abductions but brushed them off as potential reprisals against ‘personal insults’.
On 22 December, Tumso Abdurakhmanov, a Chechen blogger in exile in Sweden, was the first to report the kidnapping of his relatives.
Afterwards, other critics of Chechen authorities reported similar instances of abduction among their family members, including Mansur Sadulaev, a blogger and the founder of Vayfond, a Sweden-based Chechen human rights organisation.
Minkail Malizaev and Aslan Artsuev, who reside in Germany, and Khasan Khalitov, who currently lives in Turkey, also reported the abduction of family members.
On 25 December, Abubakar Yanulbayev, a lawyer from the North Caucasus branch of the Committee Against Torture, a Russian NGO, reported that several of his relatives were kidnapped in Grozny and the village of Goity, and that he knew of at least 40 people to have been abducted so far.
According to Yanulbayev, the abductions were carried out by Russian security forces loyal to Kadyrov — known as the ‘Kadyrovtsy’. Yanulbayev suggested that the kidnappers might suspect his involvement with the Telegram channel 1ADAT, but he denied having any connection to it.
Chechen blogger Minkail Malizaev claimed that he had been sent photos of his mother and sister naked, along with demands he stop criticising Chechen authorities. He openly sought help from the media and human rights activists.
On 24 December, Abdurakhmanov said that some of his previously abducted relatives had been released. The following day, he reported the abduction of his mother-in-law and sister in the southern Russian city of Astrakhan.
Law enforcement agencies have yet to comment on the abduction reports.
The head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, meanwhile equivocally responded to a question about kidnappings at a press conference yesterday.
‘I also saw these reports and asked the Rosgvardiya [Russian National Guard] and FSB — they do not know [anything about it] either. If they were kidnapped, then we will look for them’, Kadyrov commented on the issue.
‘They [opposition bloggers] should understand that if they touch the honour of my family, I will never leave this person at peace, even at the risk of being put on trial. Probably, those they insulted are the ones who took their relatives’,
In an attempt to bring to light the kidnappings, Chechen human rights association Vayfond appealed to international rights groups, the media, politicians, and public figures with an open letter listing 50 people who they assume to have been abducted.