Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Chechens Suffer Torture Hell

Chechnya full of traumatised people who’ve suffered torture but are reluctant to get help.
By Laura Aldamova
Although armed conflict has died down in Chechnya, cases of illegal detention and abuse of human rights are still frequent. When it comes to torture, human rights activists say they are noting an actual increase in the number of cases they have to deal with.



“Any kind of torture is forbidden, whether the person is guilty or innocent, but in the Chechen Republic we are coming across cases of inhuman treatment of detainees more and more,” said Supyan Baskhanov, head of the non-governmental organisation, the Committee against Torture in Chechnya.



Baskhanov said that every other person put on trial in Chechnya rejects the confessions he or she made in detention, because they were made under torture.



“One of the main problems directly linked to levels of torture is a statistical demand [for the law enforcement agencies] to solve as many crimes as possible at any price,” said Baskhanov.



Usam Baisayev of the human rights organisation Memorial echoed this. “The situation is like the 1930s in the USSR when the number of detentions soared,” he said. “It seems the same kind of ‘quota’ is being applied now.”



At the same time, Chechnya is full of traumatised people who have suffered torture but are wary of seeking assistance.



In December 2006, a court ordered the acquittal and release from custody of Ali Techiev, who had been accused of taking part in an armed attack by militants on Grozny on August 21, 2004.



The court was persuaded by evidence provided by Techiev’s lawyer that the accused had been tortured and interrogated illegally.



Techiev was snatched by masked men who turned out to be Russian federal security forces on November 28, 2005 and held in Operational Investigation Bureau No. 2 (known in Russian as ORB-2) where he claims he was subjected to brutal torture.



Techiev wrote a statement for Memorial in which he said that he had been abused so badly that his health was broken. His sight had deteriorated, his kidneys and liver had been damaged, two ribs were broken. He frequently loses consciousness and experiences pain in his chest.



“The torture is confirmed by the medical analysis carried out for the court and the fact that he now has invalid status,” said Techiev’s lawyer, Zalina Takhajieva.



Takhajieva went on, “While Techiev was being held in pre-trial detention he was regularly taken to interrogations in ORB-2 where he was beaten and threatened that he or members of his family would be killed if he did not confess to crimes he had not committed.”



“I was brought to a point of physical and moral exhaustion,” wrote Techiev. “I lost all sense of time and completely lost any sense of pain or reality.”



The issue of torture is now high on the agenda for the Council of Europe’s anti-torture agency, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, CPT - even though the authorities deny it takes place at all.



The CPT representing all 47 states in the CoE has made only five public statements in its 18 years of existence. Three of them have been on the situation in Chechnya.



The committee made two trips to Chechnya last year and concluded that there had been progress in terms of detention conditions, but said it was still “deeply concerned” by the situation in the republic.



“Resort to torture and other forms of ill-treatment by members of law enforcement agencies and security forces continues, as does the related practice of unlawful detentions,” said the CPT’s report. “Further, from the information gathered, it is clear that investigations into cases involving allegations of ill-treatment or unlawful detention are still rarely carried out in an effective manner; this can only contribute to a climate of impunity.”



Chechnya’s human rights ombudsman also receives regular complaints from torture victims or their relatives. In 2006, and the first five months of this year he received 72 complaints, of which 20 have come this year, according to the ombudsman’s assistant, Sultan Bulayev.



This is almost certainly the tip of the iceberg. Shamil Tangiev, head of Memorial in Chechnya, said that much of the torture is kept secret and those who have endured it do not talk about it afterwards. Different security groups who want to extract information detain or kidnap someone, bring him to a cellar or office and subject him to beatings and torture. These men are then either freed after a ransom is paid or else their dead bodies are discovered dumped in a deserted spot.



“These people who have passed through an entire hell of torture do not appeal to any government or human rights organisations,” said Tangiev. “They understand that the people who have used these methods have been given boundless power and they fear for their own lives and for their loved ones. They are afraid of attracting more violence and they don’t seek to get justice.



“Very often plastic bottles filled with water or electric shocks are used as a method of torture, so no physical trace of harm is left behind. Generally people break when they are threatened with sexual violence, which is worse than death for a Vainakh [Chechen or Ingush] man.”



Despite the extreme trauma they have been through, the torture victims very rarely seek professional help.



“These people develop a complex, they think that no one can help them, no one can understand their problems, so they retreat deep inside themselves and shut down contacts with the outside world,” said Kyuri Idrisov, a doctor and psychiatrist.



Idrisov is one of the few people in Chechnya who works on rehabilitating victims of torture. He does this on an individual basis. There is no specialised centre for torture victims – this would constitute an admission by the authorities that torture takes place.



“The victims have very intense ideas about revenge,” said Idrisov. “They are capable of taking any actions to carry through their plans. According to Chechen culture, a man ought to revenge himself on someone who has hurt him and he considers himself humiliated if he cannot respond to force with force or resist if he has been humiliated.”



One of Idrisov’s patients is Karim who was tortured in the notorious detention centre at Chernokozovo. After he came out, he was so afraid he would be picked up again that he did not go outside for a long time and stopped talking to his friends.



“He said that he had lost belief in himself and his own capabilities,” said Idrisov. “He was left with a huge feeling of guilt because he could not stand up to the people who had tormented him.”



The psychiatrist said that his patient had such a thirst for revenge that he wanted to avenge himself on anyone dressed in uniform. But after going through a course of treatment, Karim was persuaded that he should pursue his feelings through a legal route. He complained to human rights groups and is now trying to have his torturers prosecuted.



“It’s only because Karim asked for medical help in good time that I was able to help him,” said Idrisov. “There are other people who suppress all their problems inside themselves for years and think that no one can solve their problems.”



Idrisov said that many people turn to alcohol or drugs to dull their memories of what they went through.



Zaur, who used to work as a journalist but is now unemployed, said that he tried to raise the issue of torture but failed to attract widespread interest. He warned that many suicide bombers were the victims of torture.



“Those who experienced the full horror of being tortured either close themselves up or turn away from people, or else they blow themselves up,” said Zaur. “Having passed through this hell they don’t want to live any more and they want to get revenge somehow. I don’t offer any excuses for them, suicide is forbidden by Islam, but what can they do after suffering all these torments?”



Techiev is now going through a medical treatment process but his lawyer says it will be a long time before he is cured.



“Like everyone who has gone through torture, Ali experiences fear that he will be snatched again,” said Takhajieva. “This fear will stop him from living a normal life in future. He needs full psychological rehabilitation.”



Laura Aldamova is a correspondent with Chechenskoe Obshchestvo newspaper in Chechnya.

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