Four teenagers detained in Daghestan on terror charges have accused the authorities of forcing them to swear allegiance to the Islamic State at gunpoint.
The Memorial Human Rights Centre, a Russian rights group, released testimony from the four on 22 May. They were detained in October 2018 accused of illegal possession of weapons, preparing a terrorist attack, and attempting to go to Ukraine and Syria to fight.
On 20 May, it emerged in court that investigators in the Daghestani city of Buynaksk had dropped some of the charges after the four claimed they were tortured into confessing, and that the video cited as evidence against them was staged.
Samat Tatarkhanov, Ali Ramazanov, Daniyal Zagirov, and Ramazan Zakaryayev, all residents of Buynaksk, began to disappear one after another from 18–19 October, according to their parents. According to the police, all four were detained on 20 October during a police operation in the forest near the village of Manasul.
[Read more on OC Media: Daghestani teens ‘found in forest and accused of preparing terrorist attack’]
Sirazhudin Datsiyev, the head of the Daghestani branch of Memorial, told OC Media that investigators claimed that in 2015, 15-year-old Ramazan Zakaryayev met a person online who promised to help him move to Syria ‘for jihad’ but that before joining the Islamic State, Zakaryayev was supposed to go to Ukraine for military training.
Datsiyev said that according to investigators, Zakaryayev convinced Tatarkhanov, Zagirov, and Ramazanov to go with him. He said the authorities claim that another Daghestani who left for training to Ukraine brought a bag with weapons to Zakaryayev and his co-conspirators, which they buried in the forest near the village of Manasaul to prepare for the terrorist attacks on 9 May at Buynaksk Square.
According to Datsiyev, the authorities’ evidence for their claims is the confessions of the four defendants, weapons found in the caches, and the video in which they swear an oath to the leader of the Islamic State in front of the group’s flag.
The defendants’ lawyer, Arsen Shabanov, told OC Media that while being questioned on 27 March with the presence of a lawyer, the four teenagers renounced their confessions, insisting they had given them under torture.
According to Shabanov, since May the charges regarding their connection to the Islamic State and the oath to its leader were removed from their case.
According to him, the four are now being charged with illegal possession of weapons and the creation of an illegal armed group in the city of Buynaksk.
He said that the case file had not yet been submitted to the court, and that on 20 May, the pre-trial detention of the four was once again extended, till 21 June.
He said that several days ago, the four defendants were interrogated using a polygraph but the lawyers were not invited to be present during the procedure, a procedural violation.
Datsiyev told OC Media that Memorial was investigating the allegations of torture, but that representatives of security agencies had denied the use of unlawful methods of investigation.
The press service of the Investigation Department of Daghestan refused to comment on the charges of torture against the security forces, saying that an official investigation into the matter was still underway.
The first accusation of staged oath to IS
Memorial’s Sirazhudin Datsiyev told OC Media that the allegations that security forces staged a video of suspects swearing allegiance to the Islamic State was a first for Daghestan.
He said that if the allegations are proved, it may be possible to prosecute the security officers behind it. He said that this would create a precedent that could lead to an outpouring of similar complaints.
The defendants’ lawyer, Arsen Shabanov, said that this may be the reason that investigators have so far refused to allow the defence to study the video.
‘Abduction and torture’
Shabanov said that while being questioned on 27 March, his clients stated that they had been abducted by law enforcement officers, taken to the forest and forced to take an oath to the leader of the Islamic State at gunpoint, and were tortured by electricity into making confessions.
Shabanov said that according to his clients, after recording the video, the security officers forced them to lie down in sleeping bags after which riot police arrived who fired their weapons in the air before arresting them.
He said that one of the defendants, Samat Tatarkhanov, had told him that after being by security officers, they threatened to kill him and two of the other defendants, his relative, Ramazan Zakaryayev and his friend Ali Ramazanov if he did not confess.
According to him, he was forced to call Daniyal Zagirov to arrange a meeting, after which security forces took both of them to the building of the Center for Countering Extremism in Makhachkala and tortured them with electricity and a mock execution of Tatarkhanov. Ramazanov told Shabanov that he was not tortured but strongly intimidated.
According to Shabanov, after the torture, Zagirov fainted several times but was denied medical assistance.
Shabanov said that his requests to the temporary detention centre to check for injuries and to conduct a full-fledged medical examination were refused, citing the fact that ‘the paramedic who examined them did not find any injuries or bruises’.