Authorities must launch a full investigation into Monday’s violent attacks against a group of peaceful demonstrators who gathered in Nazran, the capital of Ingushetia, to memorialize Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaia, Human Rights Watch said today.
The demonstrators – a group of human rights defenders and Politkovskaia supporters – had gathered near the eternal flame in the center of Nazran for a peaceful protest when police and men in plainclothes attacked them.
“The actions of the Nazran police are indefensible,” said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities have a responsibility to protect the right to freedom of assembly, and not attack peaceful demonstrators.”
Investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaia, who was murdered on October 7, was a correspondent for the Moscow-based newspaper Novaia Gazeta and reported on abuses committed by federal forces and, more recently, Chechen forces under the command of Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov. She was one of the few journalists in Russia who gave a voice to victims of the conflict in Chechnya. Politkovskaia was found dead in the elevator of her apartment building on October 7.
According to eyewitnesses, both uniformed police and men in plainclothes stood among the demonstrators and began stopping people as they approached to join the group and told them to go away. When demonstrators asked why they had to leave, they were physically shoved away. One of the demonstrators attempted to explain that the event was legal as they had informed the authorities in accordance with the law, but a police officer responded that the meeting was illegal because the city authorities had prohibited it.
When the demonstrators tried to drive away, plainclothes men surrounded their cars and yelled at them, then pulled them out of their cars and pushed them. Several minutes later members of the rights group Mashr, which organized the gathering, arrived on the scene. According to the Nazran-based Council of Nongovernmental Organizations, police began beating them.
One victim tried to use a mobile phone to call for help, but the police forcibly took the phone. Several Mashr members were eventually shoved into police cars and detained.
During this violence, a third group of demonstrators arrived from Memorial, a prominent Russian human rights group. They were surrounded by plainclothes men and police, who tore flowers and photographs of Politkovskaia from their hands, threw them on the ground and stamped on them. When the Memorial group attempted to leave, they beat Memorial staff member Shamsuddin Tangiev. When Ekaterina Sokirianskaia, also of Memorial, attempted to intervene, one of the men, whom Memorial staff identified as a Nazran police officer, struck her in the face, breaking her nose and giving her concussion.
"The Russian authorities must immediately prosecute the police officers responsible for beating up the human rights activists who were demonstrating," said Holly Cartner.
None of the plainclothes men or police officers who were involved in the violence were arrested and it is unclear if any effort will be made to prosecute those responsible for the attack including the violent assault on Sokirianskaia.
However, police detained five representatives of local human rights organizations and a journalist. The journalist was held for a short time and released, but the five human rights activists were detained at the police station, where the police denied them access to an attorney until midnight. According to Memorial, officials at the police station repeatedly assured staff at Memorial’s central office in Moscow that they had permitted the organization’s lawyer to meet with his clients.
Three of the detainees, Memorial staff members Fatima Yandieva, Zoya Muradova, and Zarema Mukusheva, were brought before a judge late at night on October 16. Each was fined 500 rubles for “violating the established manner for carrying out a demonstration.” Proceedings against Memorial staff member Albert Khantigov and Mashr chairman Magomed Mutsolgov were postponed until October 17 because they refused to give statements without an attorney present, and were then further adjourned. A judge is due to review charges that the two organized an unsanctioned rally on October 18.