The son of Aslan Maskhadov, the late president of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, has accused the authorities in Chechnya of persecuting members of his family in an attempt to silence him.
Anzor Maskhadov, who lives in Norway, told OC Media that his maternal relatives, who live in the village of Chulga-Yurt (Znamenskoye) in the Nadterechny District of northwest Chechnya, were facing a new wave pressure from the authorities.
Aslan Maskhadov was a senior military figure in the First Chechen War, which concluded with the de facto independence of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria in 1996. From 1997 until his death at the hands of the Russian security forces in 2005, he served as President of Ichkeria.
According to Anzor Maskhadov, several of his male relatives have been detained and held in police stations over the past year. He said the authorities had demanded they ‘silence him’.
In the latest incident in late July, Maskhadov said that one of his cousins, Viskhan Khadzhimuradov, who was a close associate of his father, was likely forced to appear on Chechen state TV channel Grozny.
‘Khadzhimuradov, my cousin, was taken away but soon released, which came as a surprise to me. Probably, he was in their hands when the programme was filmed’, Maskhadov said.
In the broadcast, Khadzhimuradov says that supporters of Chechen independence living in Europe could not represent Ichkeria as they had ‘fled’ from Chechnya.
Maskhadov maintains the Nizam channel on YouTube where he publishes videos about the wars in Chechnya and other information about Ichkeria. The channel has over 8 million views.
‘I advocate for peace’
Maskhadov said that the current wave of pressure on him and his relatives in Chechnya began last year after he criticised the Chechen authorities.
Maskhadov was responding to an accusation by the Head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, that he was using illicit drugs.
‘This was done in order to denigrate me in the eyes of the people’, Maskhadov said.
‘I released a video rejecting their allegations in which I shamed them. Since then, there has been periodic pressure on my relatives on my mother’s side’, he added.
‘At the end of July, they once again came to my mother’s brothers and took some of the men’, Maskhadov said, adding that he did not know their exact names since he did not maintain direct contacts with relatives in Chechnya.
‘And they themselves are afraid to disclose the details of what is happening, as this may worsen their situation’.
‘What I say and broadcast are historical facts and my personal opinion. I support the idea of independence for the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. I don’t belong to any government or group of people, but I, like my father, advocate peace between different groups’, he said.
According to Maskhadov, none of his relatives are currently in detention.
The Chechen Interior Ministry, Chechen Prosecutor’s Office, and Chechen Investigative Committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
‘I was threatened that they would stop me by force’
Chechen authorities have previously put pressure on the families of dissidents living abroad.
In April 2019, blogger Minkail Malizayev, who lives in Germany, accused the authorities in Chechnya of pressuring his relatives who still lived there. He said this was due to his blogging activities in which he criticised the republic’s authorities.
Later that month, Tumso Abdurakhmanov, a Chechen blogger living in Sweden who frequently criticises the Chechen authorities, also spoke about pressure on his relatives, saying they were forced to renounce him.
In January 2018, the Chechen authorities forced the relatives of Aishat Guchigova, who lives in France and published a video criticizing Kadyrov, to apologize for her words on the air of the state television Grozny.
Chechen authorities have also pursued dissidents abroad directly, including in several cases through assassination.
On 4 July, Chechen government critic Mamikhan Umarov was gunned down outside of Vienna. Umarov moved to Austria in 2005 and frequently criticised the Chechen Government on his own YouTube Channel.
Maskhadov told OC Media that he was threatened shortly before Umarov’s killing.
‘Two or three weeks before the murder of Anzor [Mamikhan Umarov], I was threatened through intermediaries that if I didn’t stop myself, they would stop me by force’
‘Of course, I do not feel safe and I am taking some measures for my own safety’, he said.