Update: On June 9, at about 9:30 pm local time, Murad Amriev was released from custody.
The story of Murad Amriev, a mixed martial art champion from Chechnya, may seem a bit like a bad action movie, but the danger is only too real.
In 2013, Chechen police abducted Amriev, held him for two days, and tortured him, seeking information about his older brother who fled Chechnya years ago. After police released Amriev, without charge, he immediately left Chechnya. He stayed away from Russia for years, visiting only occasionally and hoping that the time and distance from Chechen law enforcement would ensure safety for him and his family.
In the meantime, Chechen authorities put Amriev on a federal wanted list for document forgery, due to an error in the birthdate in his passport that his lawyer said was the fault of the issuing authorities.
Amriev recently returned to Russia for another brief visit. On June 4, police detained him in the Bryansk region on suspicion of using a “forged document” and held him for 48 hours at the police station. By the morning of June 6, the police hadn’t charged Amriev and, according to his lawyer, he was legally free to leave.
But then a group of Chechen police arrived at the station claiming they were there to arrest Amriev. Amriev told his lawyer he recognized among them a man who tortured him in 2013. While his lawyer argued with them, Amriev managed to leave the building avoiding the Chechen officials who were waiting for him outside.
The next night, June 7, Amriev was again detained, this time as he was transiting through Belarus to return to Ukraine, where he had been living. His lawyers tried hard to see him, but Belarusian police denied them access. Amriev managed to tell journalists gathered near an open window of the police station that he wanted to apply for asylum in Belarus but he never got the chance. At 3.00 a.m. the following morning, Belarus authorities handed Amriev over to the Russian border guards and FSB officials. This afternoon, Russian officials handed him over to the Chechen law enforcement.
Chechen authorities systematically resort to collective punishment, putting pressure on their opponents by retaliating against their relatives. The rest of Amriev’s family left Chechnya for security reasons.
At about 9 p.m. on June 9, Amriev contacted his parents from a police station in Grozny to let them know that he was alive. But he remains in danger. In cases like this, time and external scrutiny are of the essence. Russia’s international partners should speak out immediately, requesting Amriev gets immediate access to his lawyer, insist that he be protected from all ill-treatment, and call for his release pending any investigation against him.