Novaya Gazeta has revealed official documents proving the illegal detention of at least 27 Chechen men who were killed by the security forces in January 2017. The Russian authorities earlier denied the detentions took place. The documents suggest Russian security forces in Chechnya are complicit in the fabrication of terrorism charges to justify extrajudicial killing.
The revelations are the first part of a three-year-long investigation by journalist Yelena Milashina conducted for the Russian independent daily Novaya Gazeta.
The mass detentions followed two unrelated incidents in Chechnya.
On 17 December 2016, a group of six young people allegedly killed a police officer, following which they stole his car and hit a traffic officer with it. According to Novaya Gazeta, all of them were killed, three of them on the spot and three while in detention.
On 11 January 2017, four men were killed in a counterterrorist operation in the Kurchaloy District in the east of Chechnya.
Following these two incidents, security forces began mass detentions of young men through counterterrorism operations. Novaya Gazeta claims it can prove that between December and January 109 men were detained.
In April 2017, Novaya Gazeta presented a list of 30 Chechen men killed by Russian security forces to the Investigative Committee of Russia. Twenty-seven of them were detained during counterterrorism operations conducted in December 2016 and January 2017.
According to the daily, from 26 to 27 January 2017, 27 of the 30 men on the list were killed at the Grozny headquarters of the Akhmat Kadyrov Road Patrol Regiment, or ‘Kadyrovtsy’, known in Chechnya for their use of torture during interrogations. Two of the 27 men were shot and the rest were strangled.
The three remaining men were detained as a part of the anti-gay purges in Chechnya. They were killed in February 2017.
At the time, the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation confirmed that only four men from Novaya Gazeta’s list of 27 men were indeed dead.
They claimed that two men from the list were alive — Mokhma Muskiyev and Shamkhan Yusupov. According to the daily, the authorities forced their brothers, Umar Turkoyev and Mansur Yusupov respectively, to pretend they were the men from the list, and even introduced them to Tatyana Moskalkova, Russia’s Commissioner for Human Rights, during her fact-finding trip to Chechnya in September 2017.
Another three men from the list were missing, according to the Investigative Committee.
In summer and autumn 2017, the Investigative Committee declared the remaining 18 men wanted for participating in the war in Syria.
In March 2018, the Investigative Committee definitively refused to investigate Novaya Gazeta’s mass murder revelations.
Despite the Investigative Committee’s inaction, Novaya Gazeta continued their investigation into the case with the support of human rights organisations and lawyers.
In a recently published article, Yelena Milashina describes the official documents of the Russian Interior Ministry in Chechnya which include the names, pictures, and personal information of the 109 Chechen men detained in January 2017, as well as the details of which law enforcement organ detained them and where they were kept.
These newly acquired documents list 26 of the 27 men from Novaya Gazeta’s mass murder list.
The daily managed to reach several men from the Interior Ministry’s documents, who were held at Kadyrovtsy’s headquarters together with the 27 that were killed.
The Interior Ministry had earlier told the Investigative Committee that the 27 men in Novaya Gazeta’s list were never even detained.
Novaya Gazeta points out that on 11 January 2017, Chechnya’s state channel Grozny TV aired a segment showing Chechnya’s Head Ramzan Kadyrov personally interrogating a detainee named Adam Dasayev. Dasayev has figured in Novaya Gazeta’s original list of the 27 killed and he also figures in the Interior Ministry’s lists as detainee number 31.
The newly obtained lists also include 12 Chechen men detained by the ‘Terek’ spetsnaz unit which was headed at the time by the current deputy prime minister of Chechnya, Abuzayd Vismuradov. Their detention followed the aforementioned events of 17 December, when six young people killed a police officer and then hit a traffic officer with a stolen police car. Three of them were killed on the spot, while the remaining three — Madina Shakhbiyeva, Sakhab Yusupov, and Islam Bergayev were hospitalised.
According to the authorities, Bergayev and Yusupov died two days later in the hospital. However, in the newly obtained documents, they figure as detained by Terek and their pictures don’t show the wounds that allegedly led to their death. They show signs of torture instead.
According to Novaya Gazeta, the wounds attributed to Bergayev and Yusupov belonged to Shakhbiyeva, who died in unclear circumstances, while in reality, Bergayev and Yusupov had been detained unharmed on 17 December by Terek in circumstances unrelated to the car incident.
Forced Islamic State pledges
On 20 December 2016, the Islamic State took responsibility for the 17 December murder of the police officer. Eight days later, a website affiliated with the Islamic State published a video recording with eleven Chechen men, including Bergayev — who should have been dead at that time — pledging allegiance to the Islamic State’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. This video wasn’t included in the Investigative Committee’s case files.
Novaya Gazeta has discovered other videos in which several men from the original list of 27 first swear allegiance to al-Baghdadi in front of the flag of the Islamic State, following which, in the same order, they denounce the Islamic State and its leaders under a skull-and-crossbones flag.
There are differences in the men’s appearance — the haematomas are gone and some wounds are healed — leading Novaya Gazeta to conclude that the denouncement — which was genuine — was recorded several days after the forced pledge and the pledge itself was recorded already after the men present in the video were detained and tortured in late December. This conclusion is supported by the presence of Bergayev in the video, who officially died in the hospital two days after the 17 December killing.
In an upcoming next instalment, Novaya Gazeta has stated that they will publish the testimony of a former member of ‘Kadyrovtsy’ who guarded the murdered men and agreed to openly talk about the extra-judicial killings committed by Russian security forces in Chechnya.