Human Rights Activist Kidnapped and Beaten in Ingushetia

Zurab Tsechoev. Source: memo.ruA human rights advocate working in the North Caucasus Republic of Ingushetia has been set free after a harrowing kidnapping and assault by Russian law enforcement officers. Zurab Tsechoev, who works for a rights NGO called MAShR (“Peace” in Ingush), was first taken from his home on the morning on July 25th, the Memorial human rights watchdog reports (Initial story (Rus) and update (Rus)). After a severe interrogation and beating, the activist was thrown from an automobile to the side of the highway, near the town of Magas.

According to Oleg Orlov, the head of Memorial, Tsechoev’s abduction took place around 6 AM Friday.

“Three armored personnel carriers and three passenger “Gazelle” [minivans] drove up to Zurab’s house in the village of Troitskaya,” he said. “About 50 people, in camouflage and armed, emerged from them, and began breaking through the gates of the house. Zurab himself came to open them. The arrivals immediately placed him on the ground, putting their weapons to him. Then, they quickly conducted a search of the dwelling, without any grounds, and drove him off with them.”

It was unclear which branch of Russia’s security services the agents belonged to.

Memorial reports that the officers returned a computer as well as mobile telephones seized from Tsechoev. After his release, the activist was able to use a phone to contact Magomed Mutsolgov, the head of MAShR, and disclose his whereabouts. Tsechoev was severely beaten, and could only move around with difficulty.

Recalling his ordeal, Tsechoev said that his interrogators tried to accuse him of sending lists containing the names and addresses of law enforcement officers to the website, an independent news source. Tsechoev categorically denied the charges, and explained that he had no relation to any such lists or to the website. The officers then struck him. According to Tsechoev, he was hit on his legs and on his back near his kidneys. Memorial suspects he may have a broken arm.

Similar incidents have taken place in the Republic before. In November 2007, Oleg Orlov was kidnapped, along with three members of a REN-TV television crew. After threats and assaults, the group was left in a field outside Nazran, the former capital of the Republic.

Zurab Tsechoev has previously filed a case with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. He has complained that the seizure and disappearance of his brother, Tamerlan Tsechoev, was ineffectively investigated. Tamerlan was abducted on March 11th, 2004, allegedly by agents of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB). He has not been seen since.

MAShR, which is based in Ingushetia, investigates and publicizes disappearances in the region. Its website lists 159 people who have disappeared without a trace in the Republic since 2002.

Ingushetia, which borders the breakaway Republic of Chechnya, has high levels of violent politically-motivated crime. Attacks on politicians, law enforcement officers, and public figures have become common occurrences. At the same time, residents have complained of increasing arbitrariness and violence on the part of police.