The Senseless Rule of Law

Yulia Latynina writes a scathing analysis of the ongoing conflict in Russia’s North Caucasus region, where “disappearances” and brutal repression are a fact of life, and where little legal recourse exists. She describes the case of Maksharip Aushev, a local man whose attempts at justice through official paths have landed him in prison. (Reprint of The Moscow Times)

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The Moscow Times
Wednesday, February 20, 2008. Issue 3846. Page 8.
The Senseless Rule of Law
By Yulia Latynina

On Thursday, Maksharip Aushev was arrested in Ingushetia. His arrest could become a political catastrophe — not only for Ingushetia, but for the Kremlin’s interests in the entire Caucasus region.

The whole story began on June 17, when security agents detained Aushev’s nephew, Magomed. They did not press any charges against him, but they allegedly tortured him and forced him to write a statement saying he had cooperated with the agents and had received money from them. After this, Magomed was released.

Rather than keep quiet, Magomed filed a complaint with Ingushetia’s prosecutor’s office. On Sept. 18, security agents again detained Magomed and this time took Aushev’s son as well, who had been riding in the car with him.

The cousins were allegedly tortured for several hours and questioned as to who had put Magomed up to writing the letter to the prosecutor’s office. The walls of the cell in which they were held were covered with blood and the signatures of people who had disappeared.

Agents allegedly broke the young men’s ribs, and drove them into the mountains to witness what is called “Snickers” in certain circles. This is where police tie explosives to a corpse and detonate it, blowing the body into little pieces, which are then eaten by wild animals so that the victim’s identity will never be established.

This torture had no practical value in gaining evidence; the henchmen were just having fun. But their sadism backfired when people in Nazran took to the streets demanding the release of the pair. As a result of this public outcry, the cousins were released.

After that, Aushev traveled to Chechnya, where he learned the details of the abduction of his son and nephew: They were held in a death camp in a village in the Urus-Martan district and had been abducted by the chief of the local police, whose last name was Dzhamalkhanov and who apparently was acting on the orders of Ingush authorities. Most amazing is how easy it was to establish the name of the abductor and exactly where the torture was conducted. The young men’s tormentors leaked information like a sieve.

When this information became widely known, Aushev turned into a local hero, at which point he was arrested. Federal agents first used a flamethrower to burn down the house of Aushev’s brother. When Aushev returned to the gutted building later that evening by himself, the local authorities grabbed him.

This incident shows very clearly that the attempt by the Ingush to seek justice from President Vladimir Putin would be like Jews turning to Hitler for protection. Russia has sent a clear signal to the people of Ingushetia: They should go up into the mountains instead of demonstrating in the streets.

With Aushev’s arrest, Russia has also made it clear that it is not Ingush President Murat Zyazikov who is a puppet of the Kremlin. Rather, it is the Kremlin that is hostage to every decision made by Zyazikov: While Zyazikov is unable to defeat the rebels in the republic, he is extremely capable of destroying those who are trying to fight for justice.

People like Aushev are Russia’s last hope. He conducted himself like a brave warrior. He did not adopt the terrorists’ methods but fought his battle within the boundaries of the law. I don’t think Putin likes these kinds of fighters.

The people in Nazran showed that they can make their voices heard, while their president has shown that he can sometimes make decisions independently of the Kremlin. Aushev has shown through his actions that the path chosen by terrorists is senseless, and Russia has shown that the “rule of law” — about which we have heard so much lately in the news — is equally senseless. History shows us that when the people of the Caucasus are faced with a choice between two senseless paths, they’ll choose the one that offers the greatest glory.

Yulia Latynina hosts a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio.