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Mothers of Daghestani detainees begin third week of ‘hunger strike’

9 July 2019
Yelena Barzukayeva and Shakhnazat Rabadanova (/Chernovik)

Two women whose sons were detained on 15 June for ‘illegal weapons possession’ are beginning their third week on hunger strike in the Russian Republic of Daghestan. The women say their sons were framed and tortured into giving false confessions. They are demanding their sons’ release.

Yelena Barzukayeva told OC Media that her son Islam Barzukayev as well as Gasan Kurbanov and one other man disappeared on the morning of 15 June.

She said that the police denied that the men had been detained when she and other concerned relatives visited the local police station. It was from her friends that she learned that her son and the others had been detained.

Barzukayeva said that she and the mother of Gasan Kurbanov protested in front of the police station for three days before a police officer told them what had happened. He said that a car being driven by her son was stopped and searched, and that the police had found weapons inside.

‘This is my car, which means I was “engaged in the transportation of weapons” ’, Barzukayeva said. According to her, two days later the police told her that her son had confessed to hiding arms caches on the seashore.

Gasan Kurbanov and the third man were detained in separate incidents that same night. Police also reported finding weapons in Kurbanov’s possession and said that they found the third man in possession of ammunition.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Daghestan told OC Media that while conducting a search on the night of 15 June, ‘three suspicious men’ were detained in Derbent.

They alleged that a firearm, a flare gun converted to fire lethal bullets, a sawed-off shotgun, and ammunition were found and seized from the men. They also said that Islam Barzukayev had showed the authorities locations on the seashore where he had hidden caches of arms and explosives.

The second woman on hunger strike is Shakhnazat Rabadanova, Gasan Kurbanov’s mother.

Rabadanova told OC Media that the police had not interfered with their protest. She said that as they launched their hunger strike on 24 June, the police ‘mockingly’ told them ‘they are not forbidden from starving themselves’.

According to Rabadanova, the mother of the third detainee, Mirazali Mirazaliyev, chose not to join the hunger strike since the authorities had ‘planted only ammunition’ on her son.

Allegations of torture

Zeynab Rabadanova, a relative of one of the detainees, told OC Media that the two women decided to go on a hunger strike after the police failed to respond to the rotating single-person protests that they have been holding since 20 June.

‘We intend to continue the protest and hunger strike until they release our children, who we are sure are being tortured. We’ve suspected it since we saw videos from their interrogation on the Daghestan Interior Ministry’s Instagram page. Their faces were swollen and bruised’, she said.

Shamil Khadulayev, a member of Daghestan’s Public Monitoring Committee, a state-mandated public institution tasked with monitoring human rights, told OC Media that he saw the three detainees in the detention centre on 18 June, and noticed that all three of showed injuries consistent with electroshock torture and that Barzukayev had a large bruise on his back.

Khadulayev said that despite this, the men said they had no complaints about their treatment by the police and denied being tortured. Khadulayev said he had sent a report to the Chief Prosecutor of Daghestan.

A spokesperson for Daghestan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs told OC Media on 25 June that they had looked into the allegations of torture but could not confirm that it took place.

To Syria and back

According to Islam Barzukayev’s mother, her son travelled to Turkey and then to Syria in 2014, where he joined a local militant group. She told OC Media that soon after, she reached out to Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) and asked for help in returning to Russia.

Barzukayeva told OC Media that several weeks after his return, he was detained for two months and, under torture, was forced to sign a list of 60 names of people whom he allegedly met in Syria. He was convicted on terror charges and placed under house arrest for 26 months.

Barzukayeva claimed that the current detention was retribution for her son refusing to give additional testimony which would falsely implicate others.

Zeynab Rabadanova said that her nephew Gasan Kurbanov was also detained three years ago after the police planted ammunition on him. According to her, he confessed under torture and signed testimony implicating one other person as a militant.

Khidir Ismailov, a lawyer who represented Barzukayev in 2015, told OC Media that in 2015 Barzukayev was accused of participating in terrorist activities, though, according to Interpol, he had not been seen fighting in Syria. Ismailov said that after Barzukayev agreed to a plea deal his sentence was softened and he was allowed to finish the rest of his sentence under  house arrest.

Tagir Shamsudinov, the lawyer who currently represents Bazrukayev and Kurbanov, told OC Media that a week ago complaints were filed about the use of unlawful methods of investigation by the Investigative Department and the Prosecutor's Office of Daghestan.

According to him, an inquiry into the Investigative Department of Daghestan had already begun — on 8 July, the  mothers of the detained were interviewed.

Shamsudinov confirmed that he had seen his clients in the detention facility in Derbent and that they had admitted to him that self-incriminating testimony had been extracted from them through torture.

A painful legacy

The use of torture and other unlawful methods of investigation by police, the Centre for Countering Extremism, and the Federal Security Service (FSB) are a common practice in Daghestan.

The media often publishes stories of Daghestani residents who are tortured after being detained by security forces. Some, after failing to secure criminal prosecution against law enforcement officers who use torture, have appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

In one of the latest such decisions, the ECHR awarded €10,000 to Makhachkala resident Taygib Zalbegov, who had made a complaint to the European Court about the inappropriate use of force by the police and the non-investigation of a crime.

In November 2018, another resident of Daghestan, Abutalip Shakhruyev, made a complaint to the ECHR about torture, which he said he underwent at the Center for Countering Extremism. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison for ‘aiding and financing members of an illegal armed group’.

On 31 March 2019, Omar Abdurashidov, accused by members of the Daghestani FSB of financing terrorism, said that the incriminating testimony which he had given against two former police officers, the brothers Raip and Ziyavudin Ashikov, was obtained from him through electroshock torture.

Abdurashidov’s lawyer, Salimat Kadyrova, told OC Media that two separate medical examinations confirmed the signs of torture, but that on two occasions the military investigative department of the Investigative Committee of Russia refused to open a criminal case against the FSB officers involved.

In April 2019, Ramazan Aliyev, complained of torture after being detained and accused of possessing weapons and ammunition.

In January 2019, after being tortured, Kamil Khayrudinov, a resident of Khasavyurt, signed a confession in which he admitted to killing another man. However, he was not convicted, and the charges were eventually dropped.

Zabiyat Bulatkhanova, Khayrudinov’s spouse, told OC Media that the real perpetrators of the killing had been found. She said that instead of pursuing the killers, a new criminal case against Khayrudinov had been launched for giving false testimony — for admitting to committing a murder that he did not actually do.

Bulatkhanova insisted the new charges were an attempt to stop her husband’s repeated attempts to lodge a complaint against the police.

In September 2016, a resident of the Shamilsky District, Gadzhi Musayev, was accused of involvement in the murder of Judge Ubaydula Magomedov and aiding militants — he confessed to the crimes.

In court, he recanted his initial confession and said it was obtained through torture. Thereafter, the case collapsed, and in February of last year Musayev was acquitted. In April 2019, the Supreme Court of Daghestan upheld his acquittal.

In September 2018, a charge of arson against four men was dropped when it was discovered that their confessions were obtained under torture.

On 18 October 2018, the police chief of the Rutul District, Artyom Magomedov, who had been accused of torture by a relative, was detained for abuse of office with the inappropriate use of force.