Day: November 20, 2006

Russian media silent on Litvinenko poisoning

BBC Monitoring reports that in Russia, coverage of the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko has been confined to “a small number of outlets”.

On reasons for the silence, which has particularly affected Russia’s three main television networks, the journalist and political commentator Yulia Latynina expressed the view that “This is a fairly key milestone, which undoubtedly alters the image of Russia in the outside world.”

The lack of television coverage came as no shock to Ekho Moskvy’s editor-in-chief, Alexei Venediktov.

“It’s not at all surprising that there’s silence on television, it’s understandable,” he told listeners to his phone-in programme on Sunday.

The launch of an investigation by British police had led to “confusion” in the Russian authorities, he said.

(Hat tip: LN)

Amsterdam and Illarionov on Russia’s Energy Policy

At 5pm London time today (12pm EST), it will be possible to watch a live webcast of Robert Amsterdam (Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s attorney) and Andrei Illarionov at the Cato Institute, Washington D.C.

From the brochure:

Russian energy policy is reflecting a change in the conduct of the Kremlin’s domestic and foreign affairs. Robert Amsterdam, a partner at Amsterdam and Peroff, will explain how the treatment of private energy companies in Russia is part of a broader pattern of political centralization and will describe what he believes are the global goals of Russia’s more aggressive, energy-driven foreign policy. Andrei Illarionov, the newest senior fellow at the Cato Institute, will describe the accelerated pace of change in Russia and new ways in which political, economic and civil liberties are being eliminated.

Grave Human Rights Situation in Chechnya

From Prague Watchdog (November 19, my tr.):

Grave human rights situation in Chechnya

By Umalt Chadayev

CHECHNYA – Chechen human rights defenders agree with the conclusions of the Human Rights Watch (HRW) briefing paper on the continuing torture and abduction of relatives of alleged members of armed units.

The paper, which was published by the international organization last week and which documents the presence in Chechnya of secret prisons, the use of torture on detainees, and hostage-taking involving the abduction of separatists’ relatives, met with a negative response from the Moscow-backed Chechen government. In an interview for the Kommersant newspaper, Chechen deputy prime minister Ziyad Sabsabi said that there is no torture in Chechnya. “If cases of torture really took place, we would speak about this problem, and so would prisoners’ relatives,” the deputy prime minister claimed.

However, HRW workers who conducted research missions in April and September of the present year documented 82 cases in which Chechen security forces detained and tortured people, most of them in unlawful detention facilities. According to HRW, the researchers obtained detailed descriptions at least 10 such facilities, most of which are private houses owned or used by commanders loyal to Premier Ramzan Kadyrov.

In addition, the report says that the torture of detainees is carried out by law enforcement personnel, in particular the Second Operational Investigative Bureau (ORB-2), which is sadly all too familiar in Chechnya. Moreover, Chechen Public Prosecutor Valery Kuznetsov said in an interview with Kommersant that “cases occur in which representatives of power structures use unlawful methods during questioning.” He also said that ten torture-related criminal cases are being processed by his prosecutor’s office now. He saw fit to comment, however, that “very often these complaints are made with an eye to receiving leniency.”

A few days after the publication of the HRW report, representatives of the Russian delegation to the United Nations announced that the number of people abducted in Chechnya from year to year is decreasing. According to Russian data, in 2005 108 people were abducted on Chechen territory, while in 2004 and 2003 the figures were 218 and 567 respectively.

However, representatives of the human rights organizations working in Chechnya agree with the Human Rights Watch report’s conclusion that the situation concerning violations of human rights and freedoms remains rather complicated, and that abductions and torture still continue to occur. Moreover, according to one human rights worker, almost all the abductions have been carried out by members of the Russian and local law enforcement bodies.

“All these statements that hostage-taking in the Chechen Republic has grown less frequent, and that the kidnapping is done by guerrillas dressed as law enforcement personnel, are a rather cynical ploy. In the seven years that we’ve been monitoring the situation in the republic, I don’t remember more than five or six cases of disappearance-related crimes being committed by members of ‘illegal armed formations’, as they’re called nowadays,” says Usam Baysayev, a Memorial human rights centre worker.

“Some 3,000 cases of disappearance have been registered since the year 2000. Almost all of these crimes were committed by members of the law enforcement authorities. The use of torture and secret prisons is an integral part of the current system of hostage-taking,” he considers. “ It goes without saying that a person who has been unlawfully abducted will not be put in an IVS (temporary confinement centre). For that there are secret prisons.”

“At the beginning of the war these were the so-called zindany, which were located at Russian military bases. Now they are illegal prisons which exist in the places where Chechen units are deployed. A person detained there for several days is ‘processed’, i.e., subjected to severe torture and ill-treatment. After that, if he ‘confesses’ some crime or another (with which he often has no connection), he is transferred to an ‘official’ IVS. There he is held as a suspect in some specific criminal case, and the matter is handled retrospectively,” the rights worker says.

“There are cases when people die, unable to endure the terrible tortures in these secret prisons. Sometimes the relatives of detainees manage to buy them out of prison by paying a bribe, but that is really an exception to the rule. The problem of abductions, unlawful detention and torture exists in the republic, no matter what the official authorities say.”

Translated by David McDuff.