For almost 11 years, despite their commitment to principles and uncompromising stand, staff members of the Committee Against torture have not faced direct threats to their lives and health. Everything has changed over one week.
On June 24, 2011 in Chechnya, right after the picket devoted to the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture which was suppressed by the police, head of the Chechen representation of the ICAT Supyan Baskhanov and public investigation inspector Magomed Alamov were urgently summoned to the Grozny Directorate of the Interior.
According to our workers, they had a “talk” with two high-standing police officers, including head of the Grozny Directorate of the Interior Ali Tagirov. According to human rights defenders, they were openly threatened during the conversation. The police recorded their addresses, questioned them about their families, children. Taking into account the environment in Chechnya and the peculiarities of human rights activities there, this incident cannot but raise concern about the security of ICAT workers and their families. It was made clear to the human rights defenders that any criticism of the police and security forces would entail dire consequences. According to the representation head, the police said that slogans about police arbitrariness indicated that human rights defenders’ families had contacts with members of illegal armed formations. The police also stated: “Either you work like all other Chechen NGOs do or leave the Republic; if you continue smearing the Chechen police, we will not let you work”.
Separately, we would like to note that at the same time Chechen head Ramzan Kadyrov declares total freedom of expression and lack of any hindrances to human rights activities in the Republic. On December 06, 2007 Mr. Kadyrov even issued Decree no. 451 obliging officials of all levels to assist human rights NGOs, as well as imposing individual liability for impeding legal activities of human rights activists. It is hard to believe, but the described circumstances demonstrate that Chechen law enforcers are ignoring the position of the Chechen president whose instructions have always been strictly followed.
The same week dozens of inscriptions appeared on the walls and fences around the building in Nizhny Novgorod where vice-chairperson of the CAT Olga Sadovskaya lives with her family and small child: “Sadovskaya, we will … you!”, “Sadovskaya defends terrorists!”, etc.
The goal of this action is obvious –psychological pressure. It is also clear that such response is due to the organization’s major activities. Olga Sadovskaya spent the previous month organizing a number of international non-governmental meetings and events coinciding with the EU-Russia summit in Nizhny Novgorod. From the very beginning Olga was haunted by accidents. First, all her bank cards appeared to be blocked. Then, while she was in the Prosecutor’s Office where she had been invited for a talk about the coming events, someone removed the license plates of her car, and subsequently, her driver’s license was withdrawn by a traffic police officer who “by chance” happened to be nearby and who, certainly, had not seen the license plates being stolen, but promptly reacted to Olga’s attempt to start the car and drive away.
The Committee Against Torture maintains that these threats are linked to the organization’s activities aiming at human rights protection, combating of police abuse, its firm and principled stand in securing human rights guaranteed by the Russian Constitution. Only this year the Committee Against Torture has received two international human rights awards.
Referring to these circumstances, we urge federal and regional authorities to use their powers to prevent unlawful actions directed against the lawful activities of the CAT and to protect civil activists from arbitrary treatment and threats.
We have already lodged official applications about unlawful pressure put on human rights defenders to law enforcement authorities.