The Russian federal authorities must urgently intervene over the abduction of Zarema Musaeva – mother of the human rights defender Abubakar Yangulbaev – to ensure she is immediately released and put an end to the persecution of critics of the Chechen authorities, said Amnesty International after death threats were made against the family on social media by Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov.
On 20 January, at least seven armed men broke into the apartment Zarema Musaeva shares with her husband, the retired federal judge Saydi Yangulbaev, in Nizhnii Novgorod (Central Russia). The men spoke Chechen and one of them introduced himself as a member of the Chechen Interior Ministry. Zarema Musaeva, whose son is a human rights lawyer, was driven all the way to Chechnya and placed in police custody. Later it was revealed that she received 15 days of arrest on charges of “petty hooliganism.”
The following day, Ramzan Kadyrov issued an explicit death threat, stating on his Telegram channel that Yangulbaev’s family “is waiting for a place either in prison or in the ground” and that his family members “will no longer be able to walk freely enjoying life” as they “deeply hurt” the honour of Chechens.
“This shameful campaign of persecution against Abubakar Yangulbaev, his family and other critics of the Chechen authorities has gone beyond all limits. If this mistreatment of dissenters and their family members continues, we will be forced to conclude that federal authorities either do not have any influence on the actions of regional officials or that they are accomplices in this lawlessness,” said Marie Struthers, Eastern Europe and Central Asia Director at Amnesty International.
If this mistreatment of dissenters and their family members continues, we will be forced to conclude that federal authorities either do not have any influence on the actions of regional officials or that they are accomplices in this lawlessnessMarie Struthers, Eastern Europe and Central Asia Director at Amnesty International
The intruders used physical force against Zarema, her husband and their daughter Aliya, as well as against their lawyer and members of the NGO Committee Against Torture who were in the apartment with them.
Saydi Yangulbaev and his younger daughter Aliya have subsequently left Russia out of fear of reprisals. On 23 January, Abubakar Yangulbaev reported that at least 15 of his relatives in Chechnya might have been abducted and arbitrarily detained by the police. Two more of his family members have been held in detention since last December.
On 23 January, Ramzan Kadyrov issued new threats, this time against Igor Kalyapin, Chair of the Committee Against Torture and member of the Presidential Council for Human Rights, and Elena Milashina, Novaya Gazeta investigative journalist, calling them “terrorists and terrorists’ accomplices” and urging the federal authorities to jail them. Both are outspoken human rights defenders who have repeatedly criticized the Chechen leadership and exposed gross violations committed in the region.
At the end of December 2021, dozens of relatives of five public critics of the Chechen authorities were abducted in Chechnya. Among the detainees were relatives of lawyer Abubakar Yangulbaev. The lawyer himself was also detained in Pyatigorsk (North Caucasus), but after interrogation he was released. According to him, he was given the status of a witness in a criminal case on “justifying terrorism” (Article 205.2 of the Russian Criminal Code). Details of this case are not known.
The Chechen authorities interrogated Abubakar Yangulbaev in connection with the publications of the Telegram channel 1Adat, which is critical of the Chechen authorities including the Head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov. In 2020, a moderator of this channel, 19-year-old Salman Tepsurkaev, was abducted by unknown persons believed to be Chechen law enforcement officers – a video then appeared on the Internet where he subjected himself to self-torture. There has since been no news of his fate and whereabouts. In October 2021, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Russian authorities were responsible for his arbitrary detention, torture and other ill-treatment and failure to investigate allegations of these.
Amnesty International is campaigning for an investigation into Salman Tepsurkaev’s abduction. In early January 2022, the organization, together with other international human rights groups, demanded that the Russian authorities take measures to stop repression against relatives of critics of the leadership of the Chechen Republic.