THE BUSINESS OF RELEASE: EXTORTION, "AMNESTIES," AND THE THREAT OF RE-ARREST
Chechnya-related detainees are frequently extralegally "bought" out of detention. In fact, extortion of payment in return for releases occurs in so many cases, detention itself appears to have been motivated exclusively by the promise of financial gain, and release resembled a ransoming process. Others are released by amnesty, still others because authorities could find no evidence to justify further detention. Once released from custody, former detainees fear rearrest, in part because detaining authorities often fail to return identity or other important documents, even though one of the most common grounds for arrest is insufficient indentification documents.
Of the thirty-five released former detainees interviewed by Human Rights Watch, twenty-one said that they or their relatives paid or were told to pay a sum for their release. The amount extorted usually ranged from 2,000 to 5,000 rubles, (208) depending on the seriousness of the charges against detainees. Relatives usually negotiate for the release of their loved ones through intermediaries, who often approach them and suggest possible "deals." In most cases, the intermediaries, primarily Chechens, work either at local police stations or for security agents, or have police or FSB connections. Many intermediaries prey on desperate families to extort large sums of money for the release of their relatives, and retain a portion of the payment for their services.
The Russian authorities' refusal to notify the families of those whom they detain, or to release lists of people in custody, facilitates predatory practices: in the vast information vacuum, lists of detainees are bought and sold. Human Rights Watch confirmed the role played by intermediaries by interviewing some of them and families who used them. One intermediary, who uses his former FSB contacts to approach prison authorities in Pyatigorsk, told Human Rights Watch that in late April, he had assisted in securing the release of three detainees; one had been "free," another cost 900 rubles, (209) and the third was released for U.S. $2,000. (210)
"Abu Uruskhanov" described in detail how one intermediary in Urus-Martan, a law-enforcement official, operated in collaboration with his superiors:
There was a list on the street, posted outside [the internat]. Three or four guys would walk around nearby, and, for example, my relatives, they approached these guys. If my relatives found my surname, then they would approach one of these guys, saying we want to release him. Then the guy said 'Let's step aside and have a talk.' He told my brothers, 'I'll go upstairs and talk to my boss and I'll tell you the price.' When he came back he told them the price would be U.S. $600 plus a sub-machine gun. It is a very open process. (211)
"Uruskhanov" said that he believed he was beaten less severely because his relatives had opened negotiations about the payment. Four or five days after his release, on March 8 or 9, "Uruskhanov" returned to the internat to find that no lists had been posted, and that the intermediaries were selling information about who was inside to the crowd of relatives. (212)
"Marina Jambekova" borrowed money from friends and family to pay the $2000 demanded for her son. She paid this sum in early April, to an intermediary in the Chechen security services who had contacts with the Russians. Four weeks later, her son was "amnestied," Jambekova believed, because she paid the bribe. (213) In such cases, it is impossible to establish whether the bribe was actually paid over to Russian officials by the intermediary, or whether the detainee was released for other reasons.
Paying a bribe is no guarantee against repeated demands for money. A female relative of "Magomed Kantiev" told Human Rights Watch that the intermediaries whom she had paid for his release had come knocking at the door after he was amnestied on May 3; they were demanding more money and threatening that he could be rearrested if they refused to pay. (214)
"Alimkhan Visaev" was detained in mid-January with two brothers; they were released after eighteen days from Chernokozovo, after his relatives paid 30,000 rubles. One of his brothers was rearrested, and again a ransom was demanded for him.
My eldest brother [name omitted] was detained a second time... [He] was detained a week after our release, and taken to Znamenskoye, they asked for two guns in exchange. We paid about 10,000 rubles instead. Immediately following his detention, my brother's wife went to the person in charge of detentions in Znamenskoye. He told her to waste no time but to look for two guns.... When his wife said, "We are poor and have no money, where can I find money for two guns or dollars," the officer said that he knew [my brother] had five brothers that she should ask the brothers for money. After my brother's rearrest, I fled here. (215)
The sister of "Ali Baigiraev" described how she bought out her brother: a middleman from her village gathered money from three families for the release of three villagers. Ali Baigiraev had been detained on February 5 and spent one week at Chernokozovo.
I learned from other people from the village whose relatives were also detained that you can buy out brothers and husbands from detention. I gave the money to the other villagers who were buying people out. Four or five people from the village gathered together, all of whom had someone detained, and gave money to one person in the village who had a detained relative, who was to deliver the money for those who were detained. People from the village told me how much to pay. I had to pay. The middleman from our village [said] how much each person costs. He said 2,000 rubles for each. At this time, we were trying to release three men. We paid 2,000 rubles for each. Thirty-two people were detained from my village, all have been released. All were bought out, for prices ranging from 2,000 to 5,000 rubles per person. (216)
Another case demonstrates how the dearth of reliable information about detainees' wherabouts facilitates predatory conduct by Russian authorities. Around March 22, a list of detainees who were held inside the Internat was read out by intermediators to relatives maintaining a vigil there; the name of fifteen-year-old Adem Abubakarov was reportedly on the list. Intermediaries then told his mother, Khava Abubakarova, that Adem would be released on April 1 if the family paid $1,000. The family took a loan with 8 percent interest to pay this sum. When she attempted to pay the money, officials in the procuracy told her that Adem Abubakarov had been transferred to another facility, and showed her the internat's register with her son's signature. (217) The relatives could not locate him in any other detention facility, however. In late April or early May, Khava Abubakarova learned from officials that there was an order to "amnesty" her son as a juvenile, and that he was in either Stavropol or Pyatigorsk awaiting release. (218) When she went to Pyatigorsk however, intermediaries demanded a bribe of U.S. $3,000 for her son, although she had still received no official confirmation of his whereabouts. (219)
The authorities accepted bribes in exchange for civilians and rebel fighters alike. The head of administration of one Chechen village told Human Rights Watch that he had himself arranged with Russian authorities for the release of a captured fighter from his village in exchange for U.S. $5,000 and an automatic rifle. (220) "Ilyas Makhmadov," who was a fighter, was bought from detention twice, the first time for one sub-machine gun and the second time for another weapon and a sum of money unknown to him; his relatives also confirmed to Human Rights Watch that they had paid for his release. Describing the first detention, by Chechens loyal to Russian forces, he said, "It's a business for them, doing business with fighters and corpses. My uncle had to give them a gun, there was also money, but they said the release was some sort of amnesty, 'Gantemirov's amnesty.'" (221) Gantemirov is a leading pro-Moscow Chechen commander who often serves as an intermediary for families seeking the release of relatives.
A second witness reported that relatives managed to obtain the release of the brother of a high-ranking Chechen warlord, Arbi Barayev, from the internat facility in Urus-Martan:
In the cell with me was Arbi Barayev's brother. They wanted a new Zhiguli [a Russian model car], twelve automatics and three pistols for him. He was released, [the relatives] paid what was demanded. But he was crippled, they damaged his spine. They tied his hands behind his back and they hung him by his hands and legs from the ceiling and beat him. (222)
In some cases, no intermediary is involved in the extortion process. On January 20, thirty-two-year-old "Issa Zagoyev"and a tractor driver were arrested by the Penza OMON while gathering wood in the forest outside Komsomolskoye. The main purpose for the detentions appears to have been extortion: the OMON soldiers did not turn Zagoyev over to investigative authorities; instead they immediately opened negotiations with Zagoyev's family about the price for his release, through the head of the local village council and a local pro-Moscow militia leader in Urus-Martan. At first, the soldiers demanded six automatic weapons in exchange for Zagoyev's release, but after several days of negotiations, they ultimately settled for 7,000 rubles, offered by his brother. (223)
Rearrest and the Threat of Rearrest
Released detainees live in well-founded, vivid fear of rearrest. Many men fear leaving their homes and are unable to seek refuge in neighboring Ingushetia; those who sustained serious injuries due to torture in custody so greatly fear rearrest that many do not dare leave their homes to seek treatment.
As Russian authorities do not return essential identity documents to detainees upon their release, and often they do not provide written acknowledgement that an individual had been detained, former detainees are vulnerable to rearrest during further identity checks. Without valid travel documents, former detainees remain virtual prisoners within their home communities. "Issa Habuliev" was severely tortured in Chernokozovo, but because he had no documents, feared travel even within Ingushetia to get needed medical treatment. His wife and her relatives traveled on multiple occasions to Chechnya to try to obtain the documents, but were denied access to the prosecutor's office. (224)
Several people interviewed by Human Rights Watch had been detained twice, and had finally fled to Ingushetia in the hope of being free from further risk of rearrest. "Ali Baigiraev" was first arrested in January, after a sweep in his neighborhood, to be released after three days, badly beaten. (225) When he was rearrested on February 4 and taken to Chernokozovo, he queried the reason for his rearrest.
I had been arrested earlier on January 11, and had been given a paper that they had nothing on me. When I was arrested this time, I saw the investigator who questioned me the last time and when I asked whether he remembered I had been checked before, the investigator confirmed it, but did nothing to get me released. They didn't care whether I really participated in the war, they were just carrying out their orders. (226)
"Idris Batukaev" was released from Mozdok on March 4, but was threatened with rearrest on the way home. He was again stopped at a checkpoint on his way to relatives in Ingushetia, where his documents were checked against the computer. "They checked a computer, asked for papers, and said that I had to be detained. We objected...I had just been released. They called the prison, where they confirmed that I had just been released." (227) He was then released, but warned to restrict his movements. "Idris Batukaev" was severely tortured during his detention at Mozdok but although his passport was returned, he has has not sought medical treatment in fear of being rearrested. In early May, his wife went to a friendly contact in the Russian administration, who confirmed that her husband's name was still "in the computer." "Idris Batukaev," in desperation, is considering obtaining false documents. (228)