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North Caucasian women appeal to Putin over families imprisoned in Iraq

23 July 2018
Women and children arrive in Grozny from Mosul in September 2017 (Rita Roytman/OC Media)

Around 50 women from the North Caucasus have appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin to help return family members imprisoned in Iraq to Russia, according to Caucasian Knot. In a letter addressed to the president on 15 July, the group appealed for their relatives to face trial in their homeland.

According to the letter, more than 50 women and 100 children from Russia are currently being held in Iraqi prisons because of their alleged connection to the Islamic State (IS). Nineteen Russian women have already been handed life sentences by the Iraqi courts, according to Russian news agency RBC.

Hundreds of people from the North Caucasus travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight for IS and other militant groups, many taking their families with them. In April 2017, Secretary of the Russian Security Council Nikolai Patrushev said that almost 2,700 people from the North Caucasus had joined the Islamic State.

Anna Kuznetsova, the Presidential Children’s Rights Commissioner, said in August 2017 that about 350 children from Chechnya and Daghestan were taken by their parents to Syria or Iraq.

A number of families of IS fighters have been returned from Iraq and Syria, with Chechen Head Ramzan Kadyrov publicly promoting the policy. One of the letter’s signatories, Madina Naloyeva, whose daughter-in-law is currently being held in an Iraqi prison, told OC Media Kadyrov was now her ‘last hope’. She said other Russian institutions had failed to return women and children caught in captivity abroad.

A number of chartered flights have brought families of militants back from Syria and Iraq to the North Caucasus (Rita Roytman/OC Media)

According to her, Ziyad Sabsabi, a Chechen member of Russia’s upper house, the Federation Council as well as human rights activist Kheda Saratova were also working on the issue.

Albina Kardanova, from Nalchik, said the authorities were doing little to return her son’s widow and her three children from where they are being held, Baghdad’s al-Rasafa Prison.

‘It seems that the Commissioner for Children’s Rights under the President of the Russian Federation, Anna Kuznetsova, and the Chairman of the Human Rights Council under the President, Mikhail Fedotov, are quite happy with this situation’, Kardanova told OC Media. ‘They are not taking any real steps to return our grandchildren home.’

[Read on OC Media: Wives and children of Islamic State militants return home]

‘Like a concentration camp’

Kardanova said that in letters sent from Iraq, her daughter-in-law had complained of appalling conditions the families of militants were being kept in. Kardanova quoted her daughter-in-law as saying the prison ‘looks like a concentration camp’. ‘They are not taken out for air for months, the light in the rooms is not switched off day or night, twice a day they get lentils and rice; children are constantly falling ill and often die, their mothers are exhausted to the limit’, Kardanova said.

‘Iraqi lawyers agree to defend them only for a fee of $23,000, but they do not give any guarantees. Russian lawyers are not allowed to al-Rasafa despite a treaty’, she said.

Naloyeva told OC Media that her daughter-in-law, Aysha, had told her in a letter of the ‘terrible conditions’ they were being held. According to her, women and children were placed in a separate prison with 100 people in one cell.

‘At the end of last year, Aisha wrote that now all of them were transported to the state prison in Baghdad, where the conditions are even worse than in the previous place. She writes that the prison contains more than 1,500 people, of whom more than 200 are citizens of the Russian Federation’, Naloyeva said.

A number of Russian rights activists, including Tatyana Lokshina, Associate Director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch, have argued that the transfer of Russian citizens and their children are stipulated in an agreement on mutual legal assistance between the USSR and the Republic of Iraq dating from 1973.