Igor Kalyapin: They have obtained as much information from Islam, as they could have obtained from Yulia Latynina, if she by chance had found herself in his shoes...

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14 November 2011

Igor Kalyapin

They have obtained as much information from Islam, as they could have obtained from Yulia Latynina, if she by chance had found herself in his shoes…

Last week there was another media row provoked by censorship at one of federal TV channels: a 10-minute story about human rights defenders investigating into Islam Umarpashayev’s abduction by the Chechen police was removed from Tsentralnoye Televideniye programme broadcast on NTV. As a result, the story in disgrace uploaded to the internet was given good publicity, and Umarpashayev’s case raised a lot of public interest. Among comments and reviews there is an article by famous journalist Yulia Latynina “For whose sake is this act of bravery?” published in Yezhednevny Zhurnal (Daily Journal).

In short, Latynina’s conclusions are as follows: childly ingenuous human rights defenders, although brave in their own way, are being used (without being aware of it) by insidious islamists who impede Ramzan Kadyrov’s efforts to ensure a radian Chechen future. Islam Umarpashayev himself is pictured as a sly agent of global jihad, and the Joint Mobile Group of Russian human rights NGOs is featured as a handful of useful idiots sincerely weeping over Islam. The author subjects both to the glare of truth right from her Moscow office. Being the head of the Joint Mobile Group, I find it necessary to express my opinion.

It is difficult to provide a response to Yulia Latynina – as usually the case with rebuffing accusations made effortlessly, as if between this and then. It is even more difficult, taking into account that Latynina’s article contains a bunch of rhetorical colours, which are generally defined as various forms of conceptual replacement in text books on formal logic. Thus, for instance, to assess the investigation quality she uses only the well-known TV-story, but not documented facts of the case. However, her accusations are not at all addressed to the TV staff who have failed to squeeze all 32 volumes of the criminal case file into a 10-minute story, but to human rights defenders. And since the story does not give answers to questions posed by human rights defenders, the one to blame is … Umarpashayev. To blame, of course, for his involvement with militants.

Further Latynina departs from assumptions and expresses her own approach to the problem of fighting Islamic terrorism. According to her approach, militants should enjoy neither presumption of innocence, nor the right of access to court, and everyone who defends them is, in fact, their abettor (Ramzan Akhmatovich Kadyrov, the author’s darling, has often said the same, though in a less wanton language). At the same time, the right to decide who is a militant and who is not is vested with each Chechen policeman, and, judging by the audacity of assumptions, with Ms. Latynina herself, due to her exceptional insight.   

Therefore, it is better to answer the author’s intricate questions of technical nature and then proceed with assessing the author’s ideas about law.

The first question is about the broken nose and blood-stained bandage on Umarpashayev’s face – this is the way Islam was interviewed by Tsentralnoye Televideniye. However, 2 years have passed between the alleged tortures and the shooting. Latynina pays a lot of attention to this “rather strange fact”, apparently prompting that Umarpashayev has been hitting his broken nose against a stool on the quiet for a year and a half already with the purpose of fooling us – brave idiots – and getting filmed in an NTV story, in case NTV staff occasionally finds itself in deep Nizhny Novgorod forests.

Despite her huge experience, Yulia Latynina has evidently never noticed that the difference between real life and staging often lies in “unnecessary stage-property” which is not related to the plot. It only happens in the theatre that a gun hanging on the wall will certainly shoot. In real life this gun may as well form part of a different story. Islam Umarpashayev had really had his nose – to be more exact, its distorted nasal septum – broken. But those who did it were not his tormentors (nor he himself), that was done in the framework of a planned surgery by doctors of one of Nizhny Novgorod hospitals just a couple of hours before the shooting. The shooting began quite unexpectedly for the Umarpashayevs.    

Next question is about how we located the cell phone and everything that Yulia has invented to answer it. I will try to give a detailed explanation, however, I must point out right away that I was made to sign a non-disclosure statement regarding pre-trial investigation information. Hence, I cannot speak about all technical details. Nevertheless, I am still able to explain how we manage to do without secret devices invented by Latynina. 

Actually, everyday activities of Joint Mobile Group lawyers, as well as of the Committee Against Torture staff in general, do not amount to “heroic sitting” in a flat in Grozny. Each of our lawyers is an official representative of several victims. The Russian Code of Criminal Procedure vests such representatives with quite extensive rights and powers, including those concerning participation in pre-trial investigation of a criminal case. This allows us to effectively influence investigators via established legal tools. If an investigator fails to do his job in full (in Chechnya this is always the case) our lawyer prepares a detailed petition listing all investigative steps to be taken. The maximum period allocated for consideration of such petition is three days. We always appeal in court in case our petitions are dismissed. At first, our motions were often dismissed, and we won more than 30 appeals in Chechen courts. After that cooperation with investigators began improving to some extent. Consequently, when we (i.e. the investigation) need to get a scheme of billing connections, printout of text messages, recover a bullet from the crime scene and identify it, etc., our lawyer simply prepares a petition requesting a certain action addressed to the investigator dealing with the case. The investigator then orders specially trained people working in special bodies to perform the request.

The cell phone of abducted Umarpashayev was not with him during those three months he spent chained in the basement at the OMON (Special Police Task Force) base, certainly, it had been withdrawn in the courtyard of his house at the moment of unlawful detention. But the phone stayed on for some time, and its traces led to the OMON premises. That was not a proof of Umarpashayev’s location at the OMON base, that was just a reason to believe that he was there. Later there appeared other facts and evidence substantiating our version.

Separately I would like to mention that such unlawful detentions/abductions take place in Chechnya on a regular basis. Sometimes abductees are released after several hours or several days in custody. Naturally, the released are obligated not to tell anyone where they have been, to withdraw all applications lodged by their relatives in connection with the abduction. If criminal proceedings have already been instigated, the released detainee should come to the investigator, so that together they could prepare a statement saying that the abducted person got lost in the forest, went to the Central Russia to earn money or was visiting his relatives in Hamburg. Our task was to make the authorities free Umarpashayev of their own accord, so that he becomes one of those few people who manage to survive an abduction.  We have succeeded – the kidnappers completely lost interest in Umarpashayev. Urgent communication of the application by the European Court and other circumstances have contributed to our success, but I’m going to omit them. Although there is some truth in Ms.Latynina’s word – if they were not going to release him, they would not do it. Even after Umarpashayev became unsuitable for the role of a militant he could easily be killed. Thus, his release is partly attributed to good luck. However, he did not do what others did – he did not write a fake statement about his vacations in Moscow. First, he merely got scared that he might be accused of committing the terror act in the Moscow metro. Later he decided to seek justice for his tormentors.

By the way, according to Islam, there were two other people of his age held in the basement. One of them was killed when he attempted to escape, the other was released simultaneously with Umarpashayev.

According to the author, “you will burst out laughing, but determining extremists via monitoring web-sites is an absolutely normal and useful activity”. I did not quite get it where I should burst out laughing – it is beyond my competence to evaluate the work of the intelligence. Well, I can agree with the connoisseur in this sphere and admit that operational investigative activities are quite useful. However, one of the main principles of operational investigations is legality, as well as secrecy. The activity of “determining”, as Latynina puts it, is obviously in congruence with these principles, unlike detaining a person without legal grounds  and his/her custodial placement in inhuman conditions, which have nothing to do with legality and secrecy. 

No one knows now what Umarpashayev actually wrote in the internet. It was a chat (a chat, but not a web-page) which he accessed via his primitive cell phone. Umarpashayev himself has many times explained to me that he said bad things about “Kadyrov’s policemen making innocent people confess to various crimes by means of tortures”.  Sometimes virtual policemen appeared in the chat and quarreled with Islam. According to him, the chat was far from being a parliamentary debate and opponents did not hesitate to threaten each other. I do not understand why Latynina needs this information and how it is related to the assessment of whether the actions of the police were legal.  

And finally, Latynina’s main question is in the headline – for whose sake? The author’s idea was to convince the reader that the defenders were fools, and those whom they defended did not deserve it, to put it mildly.

Ms. Latynina is rather interested in Umarpashayev’s previous conviction. Unfortunately, I can hardly give a detailed explanation regarding this issue, as Islam Umarpashayev has told me exactly the same story as appeared on the TV. It is quite difficult for me to check whether his statements are true. As poignant Ms. Latynina says, I can be “fooled”. Unlike Latynina, I cannot easily determine whether or not he sympathized with terrorists and whether terrorists were recruiting him or they were just hanging out together. I am not accustomed to believe anything on the say-so. Therefore, as a law-abiding citizen I proceed from the court judgment (naturally, I have studied the documents related to his prior conviction) – Umarpashayev was intentionally sitting in a car with members of illegal armed formations. At the same time, I presume that Umarpashayev has served his sentenced for such a malicious crime and has been legally released from custody, so to speak, “with a clean conscience”. On the other hand, recognizing the court’s right to establish facts and guilt of a certain person, I do not have trust for a court which relies only on an “open-hearted” confession as a proof of guilt, while the “open-heartedness” of the confession is supported by traces of electric injuries from which Islam has not yet fully recovered. The case file and judgment do not contain a single word about safe-houses and code words allegedly obtained from Islam, as Latynina claims. In short, they have obtained as much information from Islam, as they could have obtained from Yulia Latynina herself, if she by chance, Heaven forbid, had found herself in his shoes…

Incidentally, we are not defending Umarpashayev’s interests as such, but rather his inalienable right to a fair investigation and trial. If under these conditions Umarpashayev is declared terrorist, extremist, vampire drinking blood of Christian babies and sentenced to life-long imprisonment, none of us, human rights defenders, will “weep bitter tears” over him.    

It is amazing, but the majority of Russians are persistent in their conviction that an investigation and fair trial are some kind of a bonus for the defendant, just like a glass of vodka before execution. I have often heard people say that such prominent villains (terrorists, spies, pedophiles, oligarchs, etc.) should be executed with no trial, no record.   Surprisingly, this opinion (apparently, shared by Yulia Latynina) is rather widespread in our country which has survived massive reprisals and persecutions, where the population does not trust the police at all.  However, the right to a fair trial and investigation is not a bonus, it is primarily needed to ensure that you are not declared pedophile out of the blue or shot for espionage. An investigation and trial are necessary to avoid mistakes, to find out whether or not the person is guilty, but not to do a final favour to a villain and let him exercise his eloquence. Otherwise innocent people – anyone collared to the police station by a police sergeant – will go to prison, penal camp, or be executed. At the same time, conviction of an innocent person almost always means that the real perpetrator remains unapprehended.

Defending this mechanism ensuring determination of the perpetrator is our job – my job and the job of my colleagues working in the Joint Mobile Group. Torture is a grave crime committed by state agents. Our task is to expose criminals who use their powers and official position to commit offenses not just against a specific person, but against justice as a whole, and to ensure their prosecution.

I can go on speaking about human rights basics, but I’d rather tell a story specially for Ms. Latynina. Once upon a time a girl named Maria disappeared in Nizhny Novgorod region. As her parents were high-standing officials, her disappearance was investigated with special vigour and control. The investigative authorities managed to determine that the last person who had seen Maria was traffic police officer Alexey Mikheyev. According to him, he gave the girl a lift in his service car and dropped her off at a bus-stop in Nizhny Novgorod. Having conducted some operational investigative activities, the police concluded that Mikheyev had raped and killed the attractive young girl. Presuming that laws and rights do not extend to such monsters as Mikheyev, they started torturing Alexey by feeding current through wires attached to his ears. Soon he confessed to murdering the girl and to a number of other crimes, there is even a confession written by him. He only failed to show the exact place where he had hidden the body. Therefore, they continued torturing him. Finally, being unable to stand the pain, Alexey, still handcuffed, jump out of the window from the third floor of the Prosecutor’s Office building. He did not die, but his spine got broken because he had fallen on a police motorbike.   

When Mikheyev was taken to hospital, the police explained the doctors that he was a monster, maniac killing girls and children. Therefore, the doctors did not rush to operate on him, and Alexey became disabled and chairbound for the rest of his life. The following day Maria returned home safe and sound…

The details of this story – one of the first cases of the Committee Against Torture which required 7 years of hard work before we could attain justice – can be found in the ECtHR judgment under “Mikheyev v. Russia”. I would like to add that the human-rights defenders’ compassion has been also reflected in the verdict delivered by a Russian court.

I advise Julia Latynina and everybody who think that the right to a fair trial and protection from tortures extends only to good guys to place themselves in Mikheyev’s shoes.

Editorsnote:

The Committee Against Torture is a Russian non-governmental organization working since 2000 and coordinating activities of the Joint Mobile Group of Russian human rights defenders in Chechnya. Since the moment of its creation the CAT has checked 1303 allegations of human rights abuses, established 104 facts of tortures and ill-treatment, ensured prosecution of 75 officials guilty of criminal offenses (mainly Interior Ministry agents) and awarding of compensations to victims by domestic and international tribunals totally amounting to 19 168 740 rubles (17 182 981 RUR have been paid already). 347 unlawful decisions of investigative and other state authorities have been quashed following CAT’s appeals. 56 applications have been lodged with the European Court of Human Rights, judgments finding Russia responsible for tortures and ill-treatment have been delivered under 4 of them; a number of applications have been communicated or are being considered by the court. Lawyers of the Committee are working with 241 public investigation cases at the moment.

More information about activities of the Joint Mobile Group in Chechnya is available here.