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Russia: Members of Joint Mobile Group in Chechnya subjected to verbal abuse and false accusations by Chechen President and local authorities
On 1 June 2012, members of the Joint Mobile Group were invited to a meeting with Chechen officials including Mr Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechen President held in the office of the Mayor of Grozny, during which they were subjected to verbal abuse and false accusations.
Founded in 2009, the Joint Mobile Group (JMG) is a solidarity initiative consisting of representatives from human rights organisations in Russia, who visit Chechnya on a rotating basis in order to investigate human rights violations including torture and forced disappearances. It was set up following the abduction and killing of prominent Chechen human rights defender Ms Natalya Estemirova.
The JMG received the Front Line Defenders Award in April 2011. The JMG team in Chechnya currently consists of leader Mr Dmitry Utukin who is also the Head of the Public Investigation Department at the Russian Interregional Committee against Torture, Mr Sergey Babinets, Public Investigation Inspector of the Committee in the Orenburg office and Mr Roemer Lemaitre, the Committee's International Law expert.
The meeting was initiated by the Mayor of Grozny, Mr Muslim Khuchiyev on 1 June, during a protest held in Skver Zhurnalistov (Journalists’ Park) against the forced disappearance of Chechen residents. The protest was organised by human rights organisation Materinskaya Trevoga (Mother’s Anxiety) and was attended by JMG members.
Officials present at the meeting include Mr Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechen President, Mr Magomed Daudov, Head of the Chechen President’s Office and Government, Mr Viktor Ledenyov, Head of the Chechen Investigative Administration under the Russian Investigative Committee, Mr Mikhail Savchin, Chechen Prosecutor and Mr Ruslan Alkhanov, Chechen Interior Minister. Members of Materinskaya Trevoga were also present.
The meeting was opened by Ramzan Kadyrov who addressed the participants in Chechen. He then changed to Russian and proceeded to verbally abuse members of JMG, in particular Roemer Lemaitre: “These guys [pointing to JMG members] hate Chechens. They have come here to earn money. They are taking pictures of everything in order to upload them to the internet to make us butt heads […]. Human rights defenders are not interested in you, human rights organisations are not working”. When Dmitry Utukin responded, he was interrupted by Ramzan Kadyrov who then left the meeting. Magomed Daudov accused JMG of allegedly offering Chechen residents money in exchange for false statements of torture. He did not allow JMG members to respond to the false accusation.
The meeting then continued with further discussion, during which Viktor Ledenyov stated that JMG’s activities were interfering with officials' investigations. Ruslan Alkhanov stated that JMG did not have the required jurisdiction to engage in investigations in Chechnya. The meeting ended with Magomed Daudov's assurance that future dialogue can be organised between officials and members of JMG.
Front Line Defenders condemns the verbal abuse and false accusations directed at JMG members Dmitry Utukin, Sergey Babinets and Roemer Lemaitre by the Chechen President and Chechen officials at the meeting held on 1 June. Front Line Defenders views these actions as part of an ongoing campaign aimed at discrediting and intimidating Russian Interregional CAT and JMG, as a result of their work in documenting and investigating human rights violations in Chechnya.
On 28 January 2012, the website of CAT was hacked, with information related to several cases deleted. See Front Line Defenders' appeal dated 3 February 2012: www.frontlinedefenders.org/node/17274. On 21 January 2012, CAT and JMG lawyer Mr Anton Ryzhov was temporarily detained in Nizhny Novgorod, while on his way back from Chechnya. His laptop and memory sticks were confiscated. He was kept in a police station for several hours where he was questioned about the activity of JMG and was not allowed to make any phone calls.
See Front Line Defenders' appeal dated 23 January 2012: http://www.frontlinedefenders.org/node/17118.