THE PROCESS OF DETENTION
I'm not an object that can just be locked up, and then be content when they say sorry.
The pace of arrests greatly accelerated in January 2000, when General Victor Kazantsev, the commander of the United Group of Forces in Chechnya, ordered the closing Chechnya's internal borders to all men and boys between the ages of ten and sixty. Several days later, Russian authorities lifted the cross-border travel ban, but continued to limit the movement of men and boys within Chechnya, imposing a tough "identity verification regime," whereby irregularities in one's identity documents--internal passports, drivers' licenses and the like--could be grounds for suspected affiliation with Chechen fighters. General Kazantsev stated:
[The measure] is aimed at curbing the free moving of the militants under the guise of peaceful civilians.... [Identity checks in liberated areas] plus the toughening of search procedures at checkpoints will put in very tough circumstances those who are inclined to call to arms and kill by night. (26)
A broad and arbitrary interpretation of "irregularity"was often the basis for detention for suspected rebel affiliation. Many men and women have been detained simply because they were staying in locations that were not their official, registered address; or because police questioned the authenticity of their identity documents as a pretext for detention. (27) One interviewee told Human Rights Watch he was detained because his drivers' license was issued during the inter-war period. Others were detained because they share the same surname as a known Chechen commander, or because they are perceived to have relatives who are fighters. During the arrest, officers or soldiers commonly inspect the bodies of men and women for physical indications that they have been taking part in fighting, such as bruises or other marks on the shoulders (caused by the backlash of a rifle following gunfire), or calluses on the elbows, knees or hands. Often, old non-fighting related injuries formed the basis for arrest.
Arrests at Checkpoints and Border Crossings
Russian forces have established a dense network of checkpoints along major routes within Chechnya, particularly those that lead to Chechnya's borders with neighboring republics. It is not uncommon for civilians to have to clear ten or fifteen checkpoints to travel as many kilometers. Checkpoints range from heavily reinforced structures, to ad-hoc and mobile ones manned by just a few soldiers; at some checkpoints, police and soldiers use shacks, metal containers, or pits dug in the ground as improvised detention facilities. Civilians, particularly fighting-age males, often face harassment and abuse at checkpoints, and extortion is endemic.
"Issa Akhmadov," a twenty-one-year-old Grozny resident, was detained on January 19 near Znamenskoye, in northern Chechnya, after passing through about twenty checkpoints along the way from Novy Grozny, about seventy-five kilometers to the southeast. His arrest experience at the Kalaus checkpoint was typical: checkpoint police said they found a problem with his passport, would not disclose what the problem was, refused to tell his mother where they were taking him, and forbade him from speaking with her.
My mother and sister tried to stop them, but the soldiers cocked their guns, aimed them at our mothers and said they had the right to shoot if the women crossed the barrier. On the radio, they called for a vehicle used to transport criminals. By the time the vehicle arrived, they had checked everything in our pockets, all of our papers. When I realized they wanted to detain me and take me away, I asked the soldier if I could speak to my mother.... But the soldiers refused, saying they would inform the families themselves as there was a panic. The women were screaming, trying to do something. Two soldiers went to the barrier with their guns, to prevent the women from crossing it. (28)
At some checkpoints, the authorities cross-check passport or other information with a computerized database. However, when computers or radio links are not available, detainees sometimes remain in custody until they can be checked through the database. "Adem Hasuev," for example, was on a bus to Ingushetia when he was detained on January 17 near Znamenskoye. Checkpoint police said they suspected that "Hasuev's" passport was fake, and due to the lack of computers, he was held until February 1.
They said that until they identified me, they would take me to Goragorskiy. Then they said they have no computer there, so they took me to Znamenskoye [about twenty-five kilometers away] the next day. They said it would take ten days because [there were so few checkpoint police] and there were many detainees. (29)
"Idris Batukaev" was arrested on December 16 at a checkpoint outside Grozny because the OMON checkpoint police said they found his date of birth and patronymic (his father's name) suspicious. He was attempting to flee the fighting and travel to Ingushetia with his family. (30) "Batukaev" was held for three days in a metal storage container at the checkpoint, during which time he was repeatedly beaten: "They beat me, shoving my shoulder into the wall so that I would have bruises there, so they could say it was from guns. They also beat me in the legs." (31)
Human Rights Watch was able to document several cases of rape at checkpoints. "Alisa Ebieva" and her sister-in-law, "Maya Selimurzaeva," were both detained, beaten, and raped at the Kavkaz border checkpoint in late January. (32) "Ebieva" told Human Rights Watch:
When my sister-in-law and I were coming back to Ingushetia, we were stopped at Kavkaz checkpoint. Instead of our passports, we had a form 9 [replacement travel document]. The photograph on the form 9 was five years old and I looked different, so the soldiers used this as an excuse. Also, my sister-in-law's name was similar to the name of a Chechen commander. (33)
"Ebieva" and "Selimurzaeva" were taken to separate metal storage containers near the checkpoint. Four Russian soldiers in "Ebieva's" container accused her of being a sniper. She told Human Rights Watch that they gave her a gun and told her to dismantle it, assemble it, and shoot, even though she reportedly never held a gun and did not know how to handle one. When she refused to handle the gun:
One soldier who was standing with his back to me punched me . . . and I fell to the floor. Two other soldiers started kicking me. I had my children's documents with me, and the soldiers told me I had given birth to many children. The soldiers told me, "You will never have children again," and beat me in the genital area. (34)
Some time later, "Maya Selimurzaeva" was brought into the metal storage container where "Ebieva" was being held. "One of these soldiers said that my sister- in-law had paid enough . . . . She had blood everywhere, her mouth was cut." (35) "Selimurzaeva" told "Ebieva" that she was raped. "Ebieva" told Human Rights Watch that she too was raped, and that she spent three months in bed recovering.
Arrests in the context of "mop-up" operations
The standard Russian strategy to gain control of Chechen communities involved heavy bombardment, the entry of ground forces, and then a "mop-up" operation to ensure that rebel fighters had been flushed out and to arrest those who remained, as well as their collaborators. During and after the "mop-up," soldiers commonly went on house-to-house passport and weapons checks. (36) They also arbitrarily rounded up men, and on some occasions women, found in the area. Particularly vulnerable to arrest in such operations were men who were not in the village of their official, permanent residence.
For example, Russian forces detained "Khamid Taramov" during their February 3-5, 2000, sweep of Shaami Yurt because his propiska was for Grozny. "Taramov," together with eight other men, was stripped and beaten on February 4. He related his experience to Human Rights Watch:
I was at [my parents'] home . . . it is at the edge of the village, there was a lot of work to do after the bombing, and I was in the yard. They came and asked me for my papers, they asked me why I was registered in Grozny and suggested I had come to Shaami Yurt to fight. There were about fifteen of them, they were MVD or FSK. They came in APCs.... People already taken were on buses.... On my bus we were six to eight of us altogether, two were local teachers who had retired. We were taken to the edge of the village. (37)
The men were taken to a field, where they were stripped and examined.
We were held there approximately four hours. We were standing in dirt, there was frost and snow at that time. We had to take off our clothes. They checked our shoulders, looked for callouses on our hands. They beat us--of course they beat us. I was beaten a little, the normal way, with the butt of an automatic rifle. They kicked me several times, in the kidneys. I was almost knocked down. (38)
"Khamid Taramov" was eventually released from the field, but reported that other detainees were still missing as of May 2000. During the Shaami Yurt sweep operation on February 5, Russian forces summarily executed twenty-three-year-old Akhmed Doshaev. Villagers saw soldiers separate Doshaev and his brother, Alvi, from a group of detainees and take them under a bridge. Villagers found Doshaev's body several weeks later. (39) Twenty-one year old Alvi Doshaev was still missing as of May 2000. (40)
"Sultan Deniev" was detained with fifteen other men in the February 7, 2000, sweep of Gekhi Chu. (41) No reasons were given for their detention. "Deniev" told Human Rights Watch that after the shelling of Gekhi Chu had ended, he emerged with his family from their basement and sought out Russian forces, fearing what would happen if Russians discovered them in their homes. The group of sixteen detainees was held "on [a] field behind the village. They started to tell us we were bandits, we did nothing for the motherland. They started to check our identity. We are all from one village, [we] never had guns. [The others,] they looked like farmers." (42) "Deniev" and the others were then transferred to Khankala, and then to Tolstoy Yurt; they were released on February 15.
In their mop-up operation of the Karpinsky district of Grozny on January 23, 2000, soldiers detained six males, including a thirteen-year-old deaf boy and two men with mental disabilities. (43) Although soldiers promised to release the six after checking their documents, one remained in custody for three months, and three others were in still in custody as of the end of May. "Leyla Saigatova" described what happened that day.
I was in a shelter in our neighborhood and twice the soldiers came to check us. They took off the men's clothes, made them strip completely, the old as well as the young men. They checked them for callouses and...scrapes and then left. Then again they came in the afternoon, right to our basement. At that time, they took the men. I said please don't take them, they are our relatives, not fighters, but they took them, and said that they would be thoroughly checked and then released. (44)
"Aslanbek Digaev," whom "Saigatova" named as one of the men detained that day, was independently located by Human Rights Watch.
There was a...passport check. I have never been involved in any military operations. They came to our street, my wife and sisters were at home as well. They took six with me, all of us were with our relatives. None of them had been fighters.... When I was detained, I asked where we were going. They said they would check our documents and then be released." (45)
The men were initially taken to a military base at Solyonaia Balka, a few kilometers from the Karpinsky district. After being held there overnight, the thirteen-year-old boy was released, and the others were taken to Khankala, and then to Chernokozovo. (46)
Arrests during targeted sweeps of communities
As of this writing, Russian authorities control most of Chechnya, and perform periodic sweeps of communities under their control. These consist of house-to-house weapons searches and identity checks, ostensibly to ferret out fighters. Some of these sweep operations have followed Chechen ambushes of Russian military convoys or guerrilla-style attacks on other installations. Chechen rebels have turned almost exclusively to hit-and-run operations to carry on their military efforts against Russian forces. Human Rights Watch is concerned that arbitrary arrests of civilians will also become more commonplace.
The events in April in Serzhen Yurt illustrate this pattern. On April 24 and 26, 2000, Chechen fighters ambushed Russian convoys near Serzhen Yurt, located at the mouth of a strategic gorge. (47) Two days after the attack, Ministry of Internal Affairs troops conducted a sweep during which they detained at least five men. (48) Among them was "Khamzat Vakuev," who was given no explanation before being beaten and then taken away, handcuffed, with his feet tied together. He was released several days later. He told Human Rights Watch:
They came to my house, they checked every house on the street. It was in the morning, maybe 7:00 a.m., maybe even earlier. There were a lot of them, maybe thirty.... I was beaten with a rifle at my house, in the yard of my house. They did it with their rifle butts, it was impossible to avoid the beatings, because they beat me very hard. I was on the ground, covering my head, I just took it.... At the house I was beaten, they kicked me, and put me in handcuffs. My mother was in hysterics. They searched the house, different places, in the rooms and basements. They spent about fifteen or twenty minutes, more maybe.... They didn't ask for ID, they just beat me. They took me to a field, between Serzhen Yurt and Shali, then there they asked about papers. I said mine were at home, and they beat us. (49)
"Vakuev" was held for two days, outdoors in two separate encampments, before his relatives paid a bribe to secure his release. The other men detained with him were also released after several days.
On April 27, Russian forces conducted a sweep of Tsotsin Yurt. They surrounded one section of the village and did house-to-house searches, vandalized and looted personal property, ill-treated some villagers, and detained six men. On May 2, two of the detained men were left for dead by the side of the road, one of whom died only half an hour after he was found and brought home. (50)
Russian forces also target specific individuals for arrest apart from sweep or mop-up operations. Fifty-two-year-old "Asya Arsimakova," for example, was sought out by name and arrested in the early morning hours of January 25, although Russian police failed to produce a warrant or explanation for her arrest.
It was 6:00 a.m. I got up to pray and heard a car coming, and then as soon as I heard the car coming they knocked at the door. They jumped over the gate and surrounded our house. They said that they had been informed about us. My husband opened the door, and I was surprised, they were all masked. One said "Who is '[Asya]'?" I said "I am." They said "we came to take you, get ready." I asked him where I was being taken, and he didn't respond.... We came up to the car and they put me in it, and then they took my son. I asked why and they said, "if you don't keep quiet we'll take you all." (51)
"Arsimakova" was transferred the same day to Chernokozovo, where she was questioned about involvement in an alleged hostage exchange, and released approximately February 19 or 20 without charge.