Torture in Chechnya: Anna Politkovskaya’s final, incomplete article
Everyone is asking us whether Anna Politkovskaya’s murder was connected with her work on some articles about torture. Today we are publishing fragments from two unfinished articles by Politkovskaya, including first-hand testimony about torture practised by police in Chechnya.
Everyone is asking us whether Anna Politkovskaya’s murder was connected with her work on some articles about torture, which she mentioned in a Radio Liberty interview on Thursday, October 5, a day before her death. Today we are publishing fragments from two unfinished articles by our observer. The first fragment includes first-hand testimony about torture, confirmed by medical evidence. The second fragment is a transcript of a video recording which Politkovskaya intended to use for an article. The disc found in Polikovskaya’s possession (we would like to hear from whoever gave her this video recording) shows some unidentified individuals being tortured. The scene was recorded by the torturers themselves – presumably, personnel from one of Chechnya’s security and law enforcement agencies.
* * *
Every day, there are dozens of folders in front of me. These are copies of materials from criminal cases against people who are in jail for “terrorism” or still under investigation.
Why is the word “terrorism” in quotation marks here? Because the overwhelming majority of these people are designated terrorists. And by 2006, this practice of “designating people as terrorists” has not only displaced any and all real anti-terrorist efforts, but has also started generating revenge-seekers – potential terrorists. When prosecutors and courts work on political orders and chase after anti-terrorism statistics that will please the Kremlin, rather than working to uphold the law and punish the guilty, criminal cases are turned out like so many pancakes.
The conveyor belt of “organizing full confessions” excels at providing good statistics on “fighting terrorism” in the North Caucasus.
Here is part of a letter I received from the mothers of a group of young Chechens convicted of terrorism: “…In effect, these penitentiaries have turned into concentration camps for convicted Chechens. They are subjected to ethnic discrimination. They aren’t allowed out of one-man cells or punitive solitary confinement. Most of them, or almost all of them, have been convicted of fabricated crimes, with no material evidence. Held in brutal conditions, subjected to humiliation, denied human dignity, they are developing a hatred of everything. This is a whole army of young men who will return to us with their lives ruined, their beliefs ruined…”
I’ll be honest: I fear their hatred. I fear it because it’s like a river that will overflow its banks sooner or later. And it will be taken out on everyone – not just the investigators who tortured them. The “designated terrorist” cases are the arena where there’s a head-on clash between two ideological approaches to what is happening in the zone of the “counter-terrorist operation in the North Caucasus”: are we using the law to fight lawlessness, or are we hitting “their” lawlessness with “our” lawlessness?
They’re clashing, thus ensuring sparks in the present and in the future. The result of “designating terrorists” is an increase in the numbers of those who refuse to tolerate it.
Ukraine recently extradited, at Russia’s request, a certain Beslan Gadayev – a Chechen. He was arrested in early August during an ID check in the Crimea, where he was living with the status of a displaced person. Here is a quote from his letter dated August 29:
“…After I was extradited from Ukraine to Grozny, I was led into an office and immediately asked if I’d killed someone from the Salikhov family – Anzor and his friend, a Russian truck driver. I swore that I hadn’t killed anyone or shed anyone’s blood, Russian or Chechen. They said firmly: ‘No, you killed them.’ I started denying it again. After I’d answered them for the second time, saying I hadn’t killed anyone, they started beating me. First I was struck twice near my right eye, with fists. While I was recovering from those blows, they twisted my arms and handcuffed my wrists in front of me, and placed a pipe between my legs so I couldn’t move my hands, although I was handcuffed already. Then they grabbed me – or rather, they grabbed the pipe at both ends, and suspended me between two tables about one meter high.
“Straight after they suspended me, they started attatching wires to the fifth finger of both my hands. A couple of seconds later they started giving me electric shocks and beating me with rubber batons at the same time, anywhere they could reach. Unable to stand the pain, I started screaming, calling on God, begging them to stop. In response, because they didn’t want to listen or hear me scream, they placed a black bag over my head.
“I don’t remember exactly how long this lasted, but I started to pass out from the pain. Seeing that I was losing consciousness, they took off the bag and asked me if I’d talk. I said I would, though I didn’t know what I could tell them. I answered in order to escape the torture, if only temporarily.
“Then they let me down, removed the pipe, and threw me to the floor. They said: ‘Talk.’ I replied that I had nothing to tell them. They responded by hitting me with the same pipe, near my right eye again. I fell on my side and I was barely conscious as I felt them start hitting me all over my body. …I was then suspended between the tables again, and they repeated what they’d done before. I don’t know how long it lasted, I can’t remember, they kept throwing water over me.
“The next day, they washed me and smeared something over my face and body. Around lunch-time, an operative in plain clothes came in to see me and said that some journalists had arrived, and I’d have to confess to three murders as well as looting. He threatened that if I didn’t agree, they’d repeat everything they did before and release me after performing abuses of a sexual nature on me. I agreed to confess. After I’d been interviewed by the journalists, the operatives threatened me with sexual abuses again and forced me to sign a statement to the effect that all the injuries I’d received from them, all they’d done to me, all those injuries were allegedly incurred during an escape attempt.”
Lawyer Zaur Zakriyev, defending Beslan Gadayev, told the Memorial human rights organization that his client suffered physical and psychological abuse at the Grozny (village) district Interior Ministry police station. According to the lawyer’s statement, his client had essentially confessed to a raid on police in 2004. But the Grozny (village) police also decided to make him confess to a number of crimes he hadn’t committed in the village of Starye Atagi, Grozny (village) district, Chechnya.
According to the lawyer, the severe violence left his client with visible injuries on his body. A medical inspection at the SIZO-1 pre-trial detention center in Grozny, current location of Beslan Gadayev charged under Article 209 of the Crime Code (banditry), showed numerous signs of a beating, injuries including scars, abrasions, bruises, broken ribs, and complaints of pain in internal organs.
For all these blatant abuses of human rights, lawyer Zaur Zakriyev has filed complaints with the Prosecutor’s Office of the Chechen Republic…
* * *
P.S. Politkovskaya’s article stops there. It is unfinished. We are attempting to establish what kind of incidents remained undescribed in this text.
One of the last video recordings received by Anna Politkovskaya
The video shows two young men being held and tortured, presumably by personnel from one of Chechnya’s security agencies. One of the detainees is sitting in a car, bleeding (a knife is embedded in the vicinity of the victim’s ear). The other detainee appears to have been thrown out of the car, onto the road. The torturers themselves are not visible – there’s just the sound of their voices, speaking Chechen (Melkhiisk dialect), interspersed with obscenities.
The transcript, verbatim:
“Putin said: ‘keep a lookout,’ he said, ‘on all sides…'”
“He’s still with us! Addressing the victim, scornfully, using the feminine gender. She’s refusing to die… slut. Idiot, damn you… Fag, f—. Look how pretty you are. I’m longing for you.”
“Breathe, buddy, breathe, slut. For God’s sake, I’m telling you, telling…”
“Done, huh? Is he done?”
“Yes, he’s done.”
“Let’s go… over here!”
“Hey, grab the… get in position, get in position, keep all surroundings under surveillance.”