26 November 2003, 17:42

"Informal" Penitentiary System in Chechen Respublic

Starting from the early 1990s, the Chechen Republic has been a Russian region set apart in nearly every sense - particularly so when it comes to the applicable penitentiary system along with its judicial and investigative systems.

Chechnya obviously makes the only one subject of the Russian Federation where separatism has gone further than any verbal statements and where as far back as 1991 the local leaders set out to embark on a path of separation from Russia. Of course, one should be well advised to take a separate approach in order to research any and all questions related to whether this effort had been inevitable or not in the first place, to what extent it had been generated either by Moscow or Grozny and, finally, how the basic features of that desired independence had been perceived at the start of the 1990s. However, it would be in place here to point out that the federal coercive agencies, system of police elements and criminal implementation structures had evolved at a rapid pace to increasingly grow self-contained. To underscore, the Chechen Republic getting out of the all-Russian jurisdiction arena was something that not only local "business entities"(1) but also federal coercive structures(2) felt they could profit from. Numerous coercive structures and semi-official armed formations, the exceptions being rare and far between, had been involved in "plundering oil and petroleum products under the guise of providing security to relevant activities," with the local law-enforcers now and again detaining targeted entrepreneurs or business managers for extortion purposes, according to then vice-president of Chechnya, Z. Yandarbiyev. Overall, corruption and degradation had been ubiquitous and nearly unprecedented throughout all Russian governing structures. By way of example, the closure or destruction of the local penitentiary facilities (Grozny pretrial detention facility, Chernokozovo penal colony, etc.) at the start of the "first Chechen war" in 1994 merely served to confirm the all-embracing fragmentation.

As the military operations began in Chechnya in 1994, the federal structures moved to set up a system of detention facilities as part of the effort to "restore constitutional order." Notably, the status of those "temporary screening facilities" or filtration camps was never established by the applicable law. Given the circumstance, the detainees would not infrequently be manhandled, cruelly treated or even tortured. What is more, individuals would be unlawfully detained on the premises of military bases where extra-judicial killings had now and then occurred, with members of special or intelligence services likewise producing fatalities through the use of their interrogation techniques. The effort, launched to restore the judicial, investigative and penitentiary institutions in Chechnya (with the Chernokozovo penal colony being reactivated, for one), was terminated with the military operations being discontinued.

As the military operations began in Chechnya in 1994, the federal structures moved to set up a system of detention facilities as part of the effort to "restore constitutional order." Notably, the status of those "temporary screening facilities" or filtration camps was never established by the applicable law. Given the circumstance, the detainees would not infrequently be manhandled, cruelly treated or even tortured. What is more, individuals would be unlawfully detained on the premises of military bases where extra-judicial killings had now and then occurred, with members of special or intelligence services likewise producing fatalities through the use of their interrogation techniques. The effort, launched to restore the judicial, investigative and penitentiary institutions in Chechnya (with the Chernokozovo penal colony being reactivated, for one), was terminated with the military operations being discontinued.

As the "first Chechen war" of 1994-1996 had been carried on, "underground" authorities of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria continued to operate concurrently with the locally-deployed federal governing structures. To emphasize, Ichkeria's "penitentiary facilities" contained captured Russian servicemen and, at a later stage, civilian hostages. Over the years of the first war, the detention conditions had been increasingly made more rigorous, with cruel torture, extra-judicial executions and massive killings of hostages being practiced by those running the "special division" or "investigation ward" activities maintained by the Department for State Security, Chechen Republic of Ichkeria.

Just to remind, due to the fact that in the course of those years the old Criminal Code of the RSFSR continued to be viewed as formally applicable across the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, military prosecutor M. Zhaniev had all "high treason" cases filed pursuant to the provisions of Article 64 of the RSFSR Criminal Code(3). It was only in August 1996 that the so-called "Shari'a Code" was introduced, with Ichkeria (that became a de facto independent entity following the Khasav-Yurt Agreement), launching a state-building effort. However, attempts to grow bonds with Russian federal police or penitentiary authorities(4) had been to no avail(5). Under those conditions, any move to detain a suspect in Chechnya and have him shipped beyond the confines of the Chechen Republic came to be just impossible for all practical purposes(6).

The infamous wave of ransom-money kidnappings, human trafficking and hostages being held in "private dungeons" (the phenomenon breaking out in the 1996-1997 winter season) had been the defining features of the "penitentiary system" of that period. Admittedly, a good part of the blame for those horrid activities should be placed on the federal forces pursuing their strategies in the course of the 1994-1996 war. To underscore, the whole scene was aggravated by criminal gangs (engaged in the aforementioned felonious business) joining their forces with the local religious extremists, on the one hand, and with corrupted law enforcers, on the other. To provide an example to this effect, in the Urus-Martan-based Akhmadov family (known to have been the largest "slave-dealers" across Chechnya) one of the Akhmadov brothers had been in charge of the local district police department(7).

It was none other than the collapse of governing structures in Chechnya in the 1990s that eventually enabled local extremists to invade Dagestan, thereby launching the "second Chechen war." To point out, in August 1999, that war came to be officially termed as "counter-terrorist operation." Why the federal authorities chose to make use of this particular legal status is a different matter. Just to remind, in those years "terrorist activities" used to be explicitly perceived as criminal acts carried out to perform kidnappings. This largely explains why the mass media and general public across the Russian Federation (including, to a certain extent, the residents of Chechnya) generally welcomed assorted official pronouncements to the effect that the principal goal for federal authorities was to restore law and order within the confines of the Chechen Republic.

* * *

The very notion of "counter-terrorist operation" implies application of highly selective hits or engagements performed on the basis of researching the available dossiers or, at least, lists of "terrorists." Unfortunately, no substantive body of "screening files" (of the kind put together by the Soviet counter-spy agency SMERSH by the end of the second world war) was created by the start of military operations in Chechnya, with the so-called operative-origin intelligence being rather incomplete and fragmental.

Given the circumstance, nearly from the very start, all detainments in Chechnya had been massive and non-selective in character. Understandably, inability to make use of the selective approach came from the lack of intelligence gathering, planning or controlling deficiencies, which were supposed to be corrected through the application of indiscriminate arrests. This strategy nearly immediately produced the following two inevitable effects: the use of "manhandling techniques" to process the detainees and the pervasive corruption among the law enforcers.

With arrests being indiscriminate, relevant reference materials or evidence unavailable, one would now and again lack the knowledge needed to ask the detainee pertinent questions. To point out, the evidence secured through interrogations often came to be the only grounds for the authorities to proceed from, with investigators and inquirers primarily seeking to coerce the detainees into admitting their guilt through beatings, torture and cruel treatment.

On the other hand, the tolerated lack of evidence (except for the confessions made by the detainees under duress) allowed for a very broad array of arbitrary practices (from opening criminal cases all the way through releasing the given detainee) maintained by members of the federal coercive structures with regard to those kept in custody. Notably, the practice of releasing detainees for ransom money was introduced within a very short order (starting from the 1999-2000 winter season). Admittedly, it had never been terminated in the following three years(8).

* * *

Unlike in the "first Chechen war," the entire system of local penitentiary facilities was developed with a set of long-term goals in view during the second military campaign. Temporary detention wards were established with district police departments and temporary internal affairs departments (ROVD and VOVD)(9). The Chernokozovo colony received a pretrial detention facility(10) from which the prisoners were shipped to pretrial detention facilities based elsewhere in the Russian Federation. To emphasize, that merely amounted to the tip of an iceberg.

To underscore, there had been a whole array of informal detention places. Firstly, the local military bases would maintain specially outfitted pits or premises. Secondly, there were the so-called "temporary screening stations" set up in the course or mop-up operations on the grounds of abandoned buildings or just under the open skies. Thirdly, there were non-official or "secret" jails run by the federal coercive structures, local commandant's offices or some other authorities.

Given below is a brief description of the "iceberg's unobserved part."

* * *

Individuals detained in the course of military operations or in the areas controlled by the locally deployed military forces would be thrown into dungeon-like "zindans" made in the form of deep pits with upright walls. Such confinement places had been described by television reporters as far back as 1999. The facility was generally pictured as a pit covered by metal grating to prevent an "apprehended militant" from getting free. To point out, such a contraption was even officially termed as "field temporary detention cell." Notably, this kind of "zindan" cells had been used by the Russian and, in the old times, by the Soviet militaries to keep the on-remand prisoners(11) and those taken in custody. In the latter case, the facility would be known as "field guardhouse" broadly used (on account of the relevant and specially outfitted facilities being unavailable) to hold the servicemen that have committed some breaches of applicable regulations(12). One can hardly pass these "zindan" pits in the ground as just some makeshift solutions in the Russian military. Apparently, there has been some classified service guidance on supporting the functions in question by way of constructing and operating those "field guardhouses." (13)

Of course, one can wonder whether it is within the applicable law to confine civilians to those "zindan" pits. As is well known, military authorities are required to have a civilian detainee passed over to relevant police authorities within a span of three hours (with the person in question being then kept in a temporary detention ward)(14).

Notwithstanding the applicable legislation, the Russian military would now and again keep the detainees in "zindan"-type pits in the first months of military operations when the federal forces struggled to establish control of the Chechen territory(15). To add, this practice was furthered in the later years when the operations were extended to reach into the difficult mountainous terrain, which continues to be used to advantage by the Chechen militants. To emphasize, given the sustained resistance on the part of armed elements representing the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, the Russian federal forces failed to establish full control of the hilly terrain and had effectively been compelled to deploy close to larger communities. Some of the more compelling evidence of "zindan" facilities run by the military comes from the Vedensky district(16). The detainee-holding pits camouflaged with tents are known to have been maintained both at Khankala (principal base of the federal forces deployed in the Chechen Republic)(17) and in the area of Tangi-Chu community where the "Zapad" task force elements are based.

Hence, the practice of keeping detainees in "zindan"-type pits (clearly coming against the Russian law) had not been a spontaneous activity on the part of deployed military elements. Notably, it had been maintained on a sustained basis.

* * *

The larger notoriety has been received by the so-called "filters" or "temporary filtering stations" used as detention facilities. To point out, no such activity is allowed under the Russian law. What is more, one can hardly find any by-laws or regulations designed to assure operation of those "filtering" facilities, though such governing documents are certain to exist, the official pronouncements to the contrary notwithstanding. To remind, the very existence of "filtering stations" had been denied by the relevant government officials throughout 2002.

Normally, "filtering stations" would be set up in the course of mop-up operations (also known as "special operations") when members of the federal coercive structures would detain and "run checks" on dozens or even hundreds of residents of that or other community. The ostensible purpose of a "filtering station" is to support detention of suspect individuals that might be linked to unlawful armed formations and conduct preliminary investigative activities. Following the prescribed sequence of steps, the detainees are supposed to be either released or transferred to other penitentiary facilities. Given the established procedure, a mop-up task force would normally be deployed close to the community in question, with the relevant "filtering station" being set up in a nearby field or abandoned building(18). In as much as one of the key features about mop-up operations was their massive character and indiscriminate approach, the numbers of those detained at the filtering facilities apparently went beyond the available capacity, which explains why most of the detainees would be released within a very short order. Notwithstanding the circumstance, nearly all of those held by a "filtering station" would be manhandled or tortured, with nearly every mop-up operation inevitably producing some unaccounted-for "disappearances" of the persons detained.

Admittedly, though the generally condemned massive robberies and abuses committed by some of the uniformed personnel in the course of mop-up operations should certainly be passed as "execution excesses," the "filtering" stations basically amount to a balanced system of law enforcement activities, with responsible officials and reporting relationships being appropriately put in place(19).

Over the last few months, the total of mop-up operations in Chechnya has been radically on the downswing. As a consequence, the need for setting up "filtering stations" has not been as pressing as in the recent past. However, detentions of individuals persist, with subsequent "disappearances" occurring not so infrequently.

As a rule, armed and masked members of the federal coercive agencies would come aboard their armored vehicles under cover of darkness and pick up the targeted individuals that might easily "disappear" in the days ahead. And no official structure would ever explicitly admit it has any knowledge of or connection with that kind of cases. Now and again, the relatives would uncover the bodies of their "disappeared" loved ones bearing the traces of cruel torture and signs of violent death. Admittedly, for the "disappeared" cases to be never identified, the dead bodies are often be exploded into fragments.

Whenever it was possible to track down the fate of that or other detainee, it normally turned out that the prisoners in question would be taken to military bases, local commandant's office buildings or elsewhere where they would be interrogated, held for a few days and then terminated(20). Over the past few years, these structures, operating beyond the bounds of the law, performing unlawful detentions, carrying out accelerated interrogations and extra-judicial executions, have often been called "squadrons of death."(21)

This title should not be regarded as some wild exaggeration: in this particular case the aforementioned label implies sort of machinery in operation, rather than some "execution excesses." The matter is that the dead bodies of individuals, detained at different localities and at different times, often happened to be found buried in one and the same grave. It appears to be indicative of the fact that there is some network of detention centers and a structure designed to run preliminary "investigative" efforts and seal the fate of the detainees(22).

* * *

To point out, all those "zindan" pits, filtering stations and "disappearances" of detainees had been part of the first Chechen war too.

However, this time around, things appear to have changed rather radically. Operating beyond the front of official system of detention, institutions, inquiry and investigation structures has been an informal network of unlawful detention facilities maintained by military bases or other fenced-off activities. That non-official network is centered Khankala - the primary base for the federal forces. This unacknowledged system of "investigative" elements allows for the application of torture, which often causes to speedy fatalities amongst the detainees or "disappeared" persons, and for extra-judicial killings, with military intelligence or special forces-origin practices being replicated to tackle the matters falling under the jurisdiction of the public law enforcement agencies. To note, during the first Chechen war, such criminal activities were practiced by the military intelligence and special task unit. In the course of the second military campaign, this practices have been adopted and actively used by the law enforcement (Military of Internal Affairs, etc.) It seems like within the confines of this informal network the relevant investigative effort has been fragmented and violence has been "privatized." Basically, what one can see here is an erosion of the investigative effort as a public institution. In reality, the situation is more complex and cannot be described as limited to the "excesses of the executor." Now, what has caused all those shifts?

In 1999, the Prosecutor's Office of the Russian Federation launched an effort to look into selected events related to the armed conflict in the Northern Caucasus from its origin. That was undertaken in the days of the Chechen invasion in Dagestan. The criminal case "war" was entrusted to a team of investigators led by I. Tkachev, senior investigator on most sensitive matters.

On the one hand, one could put in doubt the very intention to look into the specifics of an armed conflict within the meaning of the law applicable for peacetime conditions. The point is that the law had been wielded there in breach of the "prescribed rules," in the conditions of military operations and de facto emergency environment. Should the relevant law have been applied in earnest, every single shot with the use of a firing weapon (including the arms either held or operated by members of the federal coercive structures) would have to be appropriately documented. In addition, that investigative effort could not be successful on account of the practices (including massive and indiscriminate detentions, use of physical coercion techniques, corruption) maintained by the deployed law enforcers.

On the other hand, an effort to bring together all investigative materials accumulated within the area of the sustained "counter-terrorist operation" under a single criminal case could in principle make up for the lack of knowledge held by a body of "filtering station"-related cases developed by members of the federal special services. However, to do that job, federal prosecutors would have had to put up a tremendous and conscientious effort.

Within the following year, one could conclude that the federal prosecutors had not been successful on their undertaking. While through the close of 1999 the "personalized" approach to a certain extent could be practiced when tackling the detention and confinement matters, in the years that followed the investigators have just been avalanched with unmanageable numbers of cases that needed to be looked into. It would suffice to recall that in the 1999-2000 winter season the federal forces detained hundreds of members of armed formations maintained by the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (in February - at Alkhan-Kala, in March - at Komsomolskoye, etc.). Interestingly enough, most of those had been released on amnesty within half a year. Though that measure could only be welcomed (the relevant motivation being a desire to eventually find a solution to the ongoing conflict), its underpinnings had little to do with either humane or peacemaking considerations. It so happened that within the assigned half a year the prosecutors just failed to appropriately open and develop the relevant criminal cases, with many of the detainees being never interrogated during their stay in the pretrial detention facility. The criminal case "war" had effectively disintegrated, thereby signaling a shameful comedown of the Russian justice.(23)

Following that major development, starting from the mid-2002, the numbers of "disappearances" amongst the persons detained by the federal forces dramatically increased.

Even though "following" does not always mean "because of," some causative linkage could be traced there. The matter is that a transfer of detainees to the official penitentiary authorities could not be tolerated by many members of the federal coercive agencies, the principal reason being that those detainees would have had a good chance of either being released or escaping the capital punishment. Given the circumstance, the federal coercive agencies (assuming they had never formally adopted the practice of "squadrons of death" with their unlawful arrests, confinement of prisoners to non-official detention centers, cruel torture and extra-judicial killings) at least had done nothing to prevent the locally deployed coercive elements from pursuing illegal activities that happened to be kept under cover and safeguarded as necessary.

To point out, these observations have come to be confirmed by some admissions from representatives of the federal forces. The following words of an intelligence officer from a military task force based in the mountainous Chechnya certainly are worthy of some attention:(24)

Officer: They come out against mop-up operations while complaining that they have their relatives missing. But this is only to be understood. Normal-thinking Chechens do not disappear. The ones that disappear are usually the scum that deserve to be eliminated or taken out.

Reporter: Is that you who are kidnapping people under the cover of darkness and then having them executed?

Officer: About 30% of those that disappear get kidnapped and then killed following criminal showdowns between the Chechen gangs. Another 20% could be attributed to the Chechen militants that kill those collaborating with the federal authorities. We are responsible for about 50% of extra-judicial killings. You see, this is the only good solution, given our corrupted judges. Should we just keep capturing the Chechen militants and then dispatching them to the Chernokozovo remand prison, they would soon be out for some ransom money. We started to apply our informal methods only after the larger Chechen militant formations had been destroyed or fragmented in the local mountains. The federal forces are now stationed in fixed camps or bases. We have now large numbers of prosecutors coming down from Moscow to tackle all kind of trifles and restore peace and order. They keep telling us that we should always proceed from the availability of solid evidence before carrying out that or other active measure. All right, suppose we have some inside reports on a certain person who is a bandit with buckets of human blood on his hands. When we come to visit him at his place, with a prosecutor to accompany us, we find not a single cartridge on his grounds. Now, what should he be apprehended for in the first place? Killing the militants under the cover of darkness is the best and most effective solution, especially with the war going on. They seem to be scared of that and feel safe nowhere: be that their home or mountains. Large-scale military operations are no longer needed here. What we need above all is nighttime pinpoint hits, just like in surgery. You can not defeat criminals within the law.

Reporter: Do you like your unlawful techniques?

Officer: Not always. Sometimes you get innocent people. You see, the Chechens are now dividing the power, while slandering one another in the process. Whenever we realize we have committed a blunder, following new knowledge made available to us, we know it is too late to put things right. The person in question is no longer with us.

These words can be attributed to the grass-roots elements of the federal coercive structures or "squadrons of death" proper. Understandably, it appears to be a Herculean task to secure some evidence of those "activities" being coordinated or managed by any superior authority. That authority comes as a "black box" that can nonetheless be passed as real rather than virtual(25).

* * *

Generally, this is how the informal or "non-official" system of detention facilities operates in the Chechen Republic. Its manifestations are varied because the federal forces resort to sophisticated tactics in order to bolster control of the Chechen territory. Given that the risk (either real or imaginary) of opposing armed formations persists, the federal military authorities have their elements deployed within the confines of or close to larger Chechen communities on a permanent or garrison-type basis. With the opposing Chechen militants going "underground," scheduled mop-up operations are likely to continue. Should the Chechen militants go deeper "underground," with members of the federal coercive structures being thereby enabled to freely appear at Chechen communities without any risk of surprise skirmishes, "targeted special operations" would be mounted by the federal law enforcers. Arguably, detention facilities would be based to match the evolving strategies maintained by the relevant structures.

Clearly, this unlawful system is rather comparable with the Soviet totalitarian machinery of repressive activity.

Nobody knows for sure how many human lives have been terminated by the Chechen-based network of repressive structures. The relevant numbers stand at 1600, according to the Prosecutor's General Office, and at more than 2800 (26), according to the Chechen Governmental Commission for Search and Rescue of the Missing Persons. Put otherwise, 46 out of every 10 000 residents in Chechnya have been reported as missing or "disappeared," the indicator certainly being more frightening than the one for the "big terror" that transpired under the Soviet times(27).

Originally this article was published in The Condition of prisoners in Modern Russia. Analitical report and thematical articles/M.: Moscow Helsinki  Group, 2003


(1) For example, with the local industries being in shambles, one of the pillars to help sustain the Chechen economy in the early 1990s was the "free economic zone" policy, with non-taxed goods being moved from Turkey via the Grozny airport that used to be swarmed by "shuttle-traders" from all over Northern Caucasus.

(2)  In the course of the Abkhasian war of 1992-1993, Russian special services would make use of Chechnya's actual "ex-territoriality" in order to provide training and weapons to Chechen militant groups destined to be lifted into the conflict area. As a matter of fact, that sequence happened to be followed by Sh. Basayev.

(3)  As a matter of fact, the "Islamic law" in practice came to be a bizarre mix of common law, Soviet-time statutes and selected Shari'a provisions.

(4)  Some of those were initially made in the fall of 1996 to assure implementation of plans aimed to restore local pretrial detention facilities.

(5)  It was precisely the kidnapping of General G. Shpigoun, representative of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation in Chechen Republic, which produced an escalation of counter-parting of Russia and Ichkeria eventually leading to the "second Chechen war."

(6)  As they received an official order cabled out of Budennovsk (Stavropol territory) in early 1997 to the relevant Chechen authorities to have suspected of keeping unregistered arms apprehended and shipped over to the federal authorities, some jesters from Grozny responded by sending the following cable, "W. under arrest. Send in convoy to pick him up," while clearly understanding that no Budennovsk-origin convoy would come in Grozny.

(7)  Incidentally, the latter can be attributed not only to Chechnya: criminal gangs (dealing in kidnappings) from the contiguous Russian regions are also known to have been cooperating with members of the law enforcement agencies and special services that are called upon to counter that scourge in the first place. See, for one, numerous publications by V. Izmailov in Novaya Gazeta in 1997-1999.

(8)  To admit, the system had rapidly grown sophisticated and "advanced": now and again in the course of mop-up operations or ID checks one could offer a kickback in the form of a couple of hundred roubles and avoid being delivered to a "screening center," the charge for being released from that center coming in excess of the aforementioned amount by a whole order of magnitude. What is more, there was a fixed rate for being released from a temporary detention ward. Understandably, the agency fee for closing a criminal case came to be much steeper.

(9)  Temporary internal affairs departments would be staffed by Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) personnel on assignment to Chechnya as part of composite police units (SOM) that were authorized to perform nearly all law enforcement functions, which set them apart from district police departments staffed by locals that basically started to perform relevant police functions in 2002.

(10) The latter nearly immediately was "rumored" as practicing tortures, just like some other temporary internal affairs departments, including the Grozny-based Oktiabrsky and Urus-Martan activities.

(11)  Described by A. Solzhenitsin in his "GULAG Archipelago" as the SMERSH practice.

(12)  As revealed by the relevant criminal case materials, it was precisely the kind of pit used to hold R. Bagreev, senior lieutenant, on the orders from Colonel Yu. Boudanov, Commander of 160th tank regiment near the Tangi-Chu community.

(13)   Incidentally, starting from 2002, following banishment of the military-guardhouse correctional institution, the long-doubtful legality of "zindan"-type facilities has become clear to all. The practice of "field guardhouses" or pits has discredited itself once and for all.

(14)   Inasmuch as no emergency has been introduced within the confines of the Chechen Republic, no government agency (police structures making no exception) can be authorized to wield any extra powers.

(15)  By way of example, the detainees apprehended February 2, 2000, and locked up in the basement of school #50 in the Zavodskoy district, Grozny, A. Souleymanov (born 1971), S. Sourguyev (born 1982), A. Sousayev (born 1954), M. Elmourzayev (born 1958), were taken by a group of servicemen aboard the armored personnel carrier #318 to an unspecified destination, following which they "disappeared" without a trace. However, it so happened that within a month, the March 7, 2000 Itogi magazine weekly's issue carried an article featuring a picture of a rather deep "zindan" pit guarded by a few armed servicemen. The pit contained some detainees that could be identified as S. Sourguyev, A. Sousayev and M. Elmourzayev. Following that publication, the Grozny prosecutor's office opened individual criminal cases pursuant to the provisions of Paragraph 1, Article 126 ("Kidnapping") of the RF Criminal Code on the fact of some unidentified field-fatigues-wearing individuals detaining the said persons and then shipping them to an unspecified destination, thereby causing the victims to effectively "disappear." Though the case was subsequently taken up by the military prosecutors, it was eventually suspended or put on hold in keeping with the provisions of Paragraph 1, Article 195 (for lack of grounds needed to identify the persons subject to criminal liability) of the RF Criminal Procedure Code.

(16)  In February 2001, journalist A. Politkovskaya from Novaya Gazeta visited the Khatouni community in the Vedensky district holding a basing facility for a composite task force made up by elements of 119th airborne parachute regiment, 45th independent special force regiment from the airborne forces, and by some elements from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ministry of Justice and Federal Security Service (FSB). On the grounds held by that task force, one could see a number of "zindan" pits containing residents from local communities, according to accounts provided by some of the locals. A. Politkovskaya visited that military facility and saw those pits that confirmed what she had heard from the locals. However, it so happened that within a few days the airborne forces-held segment of the said military facility was visited by an official review commission that, naturally, found no "zindan" pits. All the inspectors saw were some trenches and shallow "entrenchments designed to hold fighting vehicles positioned to operate in the direct- or indirect-fire mode." Alarmingly, the witnesses, whose accounts had been put on tape by A. Politkovskaya, happened to be killed by the military within a span of the following few months. Also see A. Politkovskaya, "Chechnya: Other People's War of Life Beyond the Lifting Gate," Makhketine Special Zone (Moscow: 2002, pp. 12-30).

(17)  The evidence was provided by numerous individuals held at those facilities and then released. Here is just one example out of many: S. Askhabov (born 1960), domiciled as migrant at the village of Orekhovo near Alkhan-Kala, was detained and then killed. He was apprehended by the military on August 14, 2000, in the course of a mop-up operation across Alkhan-Kala. Following his detention, S. Askhabov was beaten up and tortured. Then, he was kept for a few days in a "zindan" pit at Khankala within the segment held by 8th detachment of the "Rus" special forces, Ministry of Internal Affairs. Some time on August 19, three servicemen looked into the pit and said, "Which one of you is S. Askhabov? We are from a human rights committee, and right now we are looking into your case." They quickly pulled S. Askhabov out of the pit. Within fifteen minutes, those remaining in the pit could hear horrible screams of S. Askhabov. They never saw him again. His body bearing numerous traces of torture and signs of violent death was eventually uncovered in a mass grave near the Zdorovye dacha settlement close to Khankala and identified by his relatives on February 28, 2001.

(17)  At Argoun, it was normally located in a quarry. At Stariye Atagi, the facility used to be placed on the paltry-farm grounds; at the Chiri-Yurt village - on the grounds of an abandoned cement works.

(18)  M. Alsoultanov and K. Alsoultanov, detained August 17, 2001, in the course of a mop-up operation run by the federal forces in the area of the Alleroy village, were confined to a "filtering" station set up on a hill between Alleroy and Tsenteroy and called "Titanik" by the military. During an inspection tour of that facility, V. Chernov, Prosecutor of the Chechen Republic, saw the two individuals there, but then they just "disappeared." Their relatives approached a number of official structures in the republic to get their concerns heeded, and eventually the Prosecutor's Office of the Chechen Republic opened a criminal case on the matter. What is more, to have things expedited, the local prosecutors were approached by the "Memorial" Human Rights Center and some deputies of the State Duma. In his February 12, 2002 response, (registered as #117) to the requests from "Memorial" and State Duma deputies, R. Tishin, acting prosecutor of the Argoun inter-district prosecutor's office, explained that "the Alsoultanov brothers had been moved to the given filtering station and placed under the responsibility of S. Baryshev, representative of the Federal Security Service for the Chechen Republic, who in his turn handed the two detainees over to the convoy personnel directed to deliver the prisoners to the temporary detention ward, Kourchaloevsky temporary internal affairs department. However, the Alsoultanov brothers had never arrived at the temporary detention ward, Kourchaloevsky temporary internal affairs department; their current whereabouts being unknown. An effort to investigate into the disappearance of the two brothers is now conducted by the Military Prosecutor's Office of the Chechen Republic." (Lieutenant-Colonel S. Baryshev, head of the said filtering station).

(19)  Fortunately, the sequence had not always been a success. By way of example, at 7.00 a.m. on February 16, 2003, it so happened that V. Jabrailov and A. Jabrailov from Pervomayskaya, Groznensky (rural) district, were apprehended. Their whereabouts could not be traced for two days that followed. Finally, on February 18, 2003, close to the grounds of the Grozny-based chemicals plant the locals uncovered a barely alive and bloodstained man asking for help. That was A. Jabrailov who indicated the dead body of his brother W. Jabrailov lying nearby. Following their detention, they had been thrown into a vehicle and driven for about an hour before arriving at some gated territory, according to A. Jabrailov. Though it was hard to say where that locality was, one could hear the noise of helicopters taking off or touching down. The brothers had been taken to separate cells, A. Jabrailov being severely beaten up. The following day A. Jabrailov was visited by an unmasked man wearing field fatigues. He had the manacles taken off from the prisoner's hands, had the latter's hands tied up with a length of scotch tape, had his head bagged and fixed around the neck with scotch tape. Then, A Jabrailov was put into a vehicle. As A. Jabrailov sat down he felt his feet were touching some cold body. After about an hour's drive, A. Jabrailov was pulled out of the vehicle and walked a distance of ten-fifteen steps. An apparently dead body was brought out and thrown down next to him. Then, somebody nearby got his submachine gun ready and fired a shot, the bullet just happening to slightly graze A. Jabrailov's head. He fell down and play-acted a dead man. Then, A. Jabrailov's body was placed on top of the body already lying on the ground, with the executors squeezing some package between the bodies. One of the executors said, "Let's wait till the explosive goes off." The other voice responded, "Forget it, let's get out of here as fast as we can." When the vehicle was gone, A. Jabrailov released his hands, took off his head bag, got out the suspicious-looking package, saw a fuse already burning close to the explosive charge and barely managed to defuse the deadly device. As it was found out later on, V. Jabrailov was beaten up to death.

(20)  This is the exact characterization of his engagements provided by P. Ossares in his book Algiers: Special Services in 1955-1957 (2000).

(21)  By way of example, July 16, 2000, A. Boultayev, W. Dakouyev, A. Doudourkayev and A. Medzhiyev, all members of the Chechen police, were detained. All of them had "disappeared" within a very short order. However, S. Satsita (who had been thrown into the same "zindan" pit together with the aforementioned prisoners) was quickly transferred to the Khankala military base and shortly afterwards (within the subsequent two days) to the Rostov-based pretrial detention facility of Federal Security Service. On July 21, 2000, she was released on the orders from relevant investigator.

(22)  Incidentally, the materials from the criminal case "war" had been then used to draft an indictment against A. Zakayev, who is currently in the UK. Given the circumstance, one can only hope that the materials garnered by Russian prosecutors would at least in part be researched by a British court of law.

(23)   V. Rechkalov, "Man from a Different Gorge," Izvestiya (March 28, 2003).

(24)   Given below is an uncommented excerpt from A. Politkovskaya, "Special Justice under FSB Guidance: President Promises Amnesty. Who Gains?" Novaya Gazeta (April 7, 2003): So, "deviatka" (nine-member panel). It is the title of the place where usually gets the man captured during "zachistka" in Chechnya or without it. "Deviatka" is made up of representatives of different coercive agencies (Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the RF Armed Forces), Federal Security Service, Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ministry of Defense). The "deviatka" normally tackles the cases that have not been terminated by "squadrons of death" (staffed by members of Department of Intelligence Service, Federal Security Service, and Kadyrov's security task force). The "deviatka" structure is quite real. It operates a set of interrogation and torture tents placed next to each other, with a victim being passed down the line. By way of example, one "deviatka" is active at the Khankala military base, another - at Tangi-Chu. Once a victim has entered that circuit, he normally has two ways out ahead of him: either to confront the judges or die. Survivors normally include the ones that happen to be required (on account of the displayed knowledge or connections) by some members of the given "deviatka," rather than those who know nothing or come to be innocent. Should it happen to be a person who has done nothing untoward or can hardly tell anything of substance while responding to the poised questions, his chances to stay alive are close to nil. Such a person would most likely be eliminated because none of the "deviatka" members has displayed any interest in him. This appears to be the principal guideline for "deviatka" panels.

(25)  Neither A. Kadyrov administration in Chechnya nor Russian prosecutors are interested in overstating the numbers of detainees that have "disappeared."

(26)  The 1937-1938 period saw about 650 000 people executed in the former Soviet Union. Given that the country's population then was close to 170 million people, 38 out of every 10 000 persons were executed.

Author: Alexander Cherkasov, Memorial Human Rights Center (Moscow); Source: Moscow Helsinki Group

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