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European Court issues first judgment finding law enforcement bodies in Kadyrov's Chechnya responsible for abduction

19 April 2013

Source: (info
On 18 April 2013 the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) issued a ruling in the case of Askhabova v. Russia (54765/09). The applicant in the case, Tamara Askhabova, is from Shali in the Chechen Republic, where her son Abdul-Yazit was unlawfully detained by Chechen law enforcement officers in 2009 and then disappeared, reports Memorial Human Rights Centre

Askhabova's interests were represented at the ECtHR by lawyers from Memorial and the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC), while on a national level the public investigation of the case is being conducted by the Joint Mobile Group of Russian human rights defenders working in Chechnya.

THE ECtHR has found that in the case of Askhabova v. Russia Articles 2 (right to life), 3 (prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment), 5 (right to liberty and security) and 13 (right to effective remedy) were violated in conjunction with Articles 2 and 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

Memorial repeatedly drew attention to the fact that the authorities in the Chechen Republic widely use the practice of taking hostages: “Brother answers for brother, father for son,” says Oleg Orlov, director of the centre's Hot Spots programme. “This system comes directly from the Republic's leadership.” The Askhabova case is not merely an example of the tyranny wreaked by local law enforcement. We have seen that the Kadyrov loyalists who occupy key positions in the Chechen Ministry of Internal Affairs demonstratively ignore the rules of Russian law, displaying utter contempt for prosecutors and the investigative committee."

One of Abdul-Yazit's brothers, Yusup, was a militant. On 28 May 2009, Shali district police officers killed him in the centre of town. Despite the fact that neither Abdul-Yazit nor the other Askhabov brothers were not involved with illegal armed groups, the Shali district police regularly called them in for questioning. On 4 August 2009, a district police officer questioned Tamara about Abdul-Yazit. 

At around 3 a.m. on the night of 5 August, three armed men in masks and military camouflage uniforms forced their way into Abdul-Yazit Askhabov's house. The men threatened the occupants with their weapons, dragged Abdul-Yazit outside and took him away without any explanation. As soon as the armed men had left, Askhabova phoned the police and the head of the Shali district administration. However, no task force was sent to the site of the abduction and no plan for retrieving Abdul-Yazit was announced, meaning that law enforcement bodies made no response to the claim that a man had been abducted.

The following morning, Askhabova and her relatives gave statements to the police, the prosecutor’s office and the Shali district FSB. On 7 August Askhabova went to the Shali district police station, hoping to learn news of her son, but the police officers sent her away.

They then travelled to Grozny where they appealed to the Chechen Prosecutor's Office. After this they went to the Chechen Ombudsman for Human Rights Nurdi Nukhazhiev. They were seen by one of his staff, Umarpasha Khakimov. In the presence of Askhabova and her brother-in-law, Khakimov phoned a number presumably belonging to the deputy chief of the Shali district police. In the course of the conversation, Khakimov argued that Abdul-Yazit must be released: "You don't have the right to hold him longer than the period specified by law, even if he's an amir's brother," said the Ombudsman's staff member. The person Khakimov spoke with on the phone had obviously informed him that they had Abdul-Yazit, but that he was the brother of an "amir" (the term used in Chechnya for commanders of illegal armed groups) and therefore could not let him go. After finishing the conversation, Khakimov promised to assist Askhabova. Based on this conversation, Tamara Askhabova concluded that Abdul-Yazit was in Shali district police station.

On the night of 16-17 August 2009, armed men in camouflage uniforms broke into the Askhabovs' house again, but this time they were not wearing masks. All of the men were Chechen. One of them was identified by Askhabova's relative as an officer from the 8th unit of the A. Kadyrov police battalion No. 2. The men searched the house and found nothing illegal.

On 19 August a criminal case was opened into the abduction (Article 126 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation). Reading through the materials of the case makes it clear that its investigation was blatantly sabotaged. Over the course of the first two months, the investigator sent enquiries to various law enforcement offices asking whether their officers had detained Abdul-Yazit Askhabov. Naturally, all the replies came back negative. The Shali district police officers, whose station is located a few minutes' walk from the investigator's place of work, sent no reply. At the same time the investigator questioned the Askhabovs, their relatives and the police officers who came to the house the evening before the abduction, but issued no orders to carry out operational search measures to the Shali district police officers.

Only in October 2009 did the investigator finally send an order to carry out a series of operational search measures to the head of Shali district police, Magomed Daudov. However, all orders sent by investigative authorities were ignored by Shali district officers. As a result, the investigative authorities were forced to send Daudov an order "to enact measures to eliminate the circumstances facilitating the commission of a crime." The document showed the investigative bodies of the prosecutor's office had been stripped of their ability to investigate the case due to the unsatisfactory performance of senior police officers in Shali district, but the investigative authorities received no reply from the police.

It is apparently thanks to these same professional qualities that Chechen President Razman Kadyrov appointed Magomed Daudov first deputy chairman of the Chechen government for military and policing.

The investigator sent four enquiries to the commander of the A. Kadyrov police battalion No. 2 asking for photos of its officers for identification purposes. The investigator did not receive any replies.

The acting director of the investigative department sent a letter to the Chechen Minister for Internal Affairs regarding violations of the Criminal Procedure Code being permitting by the regiment, although a response was never received. The regiment leadership subsequently impeded investigative activities at their place of deployment.

The case of Askhabov's abduction was suspended on several occasions “due to the inability to locate the persons to be charged” and resumed.

Since that the domestic investigation of the case was ineffective, Tamara Askhabova submitted an application to the ECtHR in October 2009.

The ECtHR found that Article 2 of the Convention had been violated regarding the applicant's son and that Chechnya's law enforcement bodies were responsible for the detention and likely demise of Abdul-Yazit.

In particular, the ECtHR highlighted the following facts: the kidnappers acted as an organised group and freely passed through the military checkpoint; several days after the abduction, law enforcement representatives visited the applicant's home and knew that there was a secret room in the house – only Abdul-Yazit could have told them about the existence of this room; the investigators did not make serious attempts to investigate other accounts of the crime.

The ECtHR also found the Russian authorities responsible for the case not being investigated effectively: investigators were late and superficial in their questioning of suspected police officers and other witnesses to the case; a series of witnesses, including people held in Shali district police station, were never questioned; police officers did not fully cooperate with the investigation, and the investigation was put on hold a minimum of eight times.

The ECtHR also ruled that Articles 3, 5 (regarding the unlawful detention of Abdul-Yazit) and 13 were violated in conjunction with Articles 2 and 3 of the Convention.

Memorial notes that this is the first ruling of the ECtHR concerning Kadyrov's Chechnya where the court found law enforcement bodies responsible for the abduction and death of a person.