Petition to Oust Putin's Chechen Ally Ramzan Kadyrov Surges

A petition created by a Russian opposition figure has called for President Vladimir Putin to remove from his post the president of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, who is under scrutiny for threatening media organizations and the family of a judge.

The petition described how during his 15 years in power, Kadyrov had turned the republic in Russia's Caucasus region "into a separate state" in which "Russian laws do not apply."

As of Tuesday, more than 120,000 people had signed the Change.org petition titled "Kadyrov—resign!" set up by Ilya Yashin, who was barred from running in the Moscow City Duma by-elections last year because he backed jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

His petition said Kadyrov, his inner circle and officials "make public threats against journalists, human rights defenders, judges and their family members." They appeal to "the concept of a 'blood feud' and promise to cut off the heads of their opponents," it said.

This appeared to refer to Kadyrov ally Adam Delimkhanov, a deputy in Russia's lower house of parliament. Delimkhanov threatened to decapitate the family members of the exiled former lawyer for the Committee Against Torture, Abubakar Yangulbaev, who has highlighted human rights abuses in the southern Russian republic.

Delimkhanov had said in an Instagram video: "We will pursue you until we cut off your heads and kill you," The Moscow Times reported last week.

Last month, Kadyrov also threatened the Yangulbaev family with "jail or burial." The threat was later backed by five senior Chechen government, security and law enforcement officials.

Yangulbaev's father—a retired federal judge—and sister fled Russia last month after the activist's mother, Zarema Musaeva, was arrested in Russia and forcibly brought to Chechnya. Amnesty International has called for her release.

Nikolai Arefyev, from the Duma's ethics committee, has called on federal prosecutors to investigate Delimkhanov's comments.

However, the Kremlin played down Kadyrov's threats, calling them his "personal opinion." Meanwhile, Kadyrov appeared to have the Kremlin's backing, after spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed the head of Chechnya had met with Putin last week.

A number of signatories to the petition commented on the need for Kadyrov to be removed from his position. "This is my country. No one has the right to threaten to kill other people with impunity," wrote one.

Yashin described the response to his petition as "very impressive" and referenced Boris Nemtsov, the Putin critic killed near Red Square on February 27, 2015, for which a Chechen gunman and four accomplices were jailed.

He wrote: "On the eve of the anniversary of the murder of Boris Nemtsov I will pass this document to the presidential administration."

However, Peskov has dismissed the petition, telling reporters on Monday it could have been "manipulated by bots," reported Russian news agency TASS.

Newsweek contacted Yashin and Change.org for comment.

Kadyrov was appointed president of the Russian republic in 2007, three years after the assassination of his father, Akhmad, the previous leader. He pledges loyalty to Putin and, in turn, the republic he runs with an iron fist has benefitted from large subsidies from Moscow.

Kadyrov has been frequently accused by rights groups of involvement in the kidnapping, assassination and torture of human rights activists and critics, as well as leading anti-gay purges.

He also has recently threatened journalists from the independent Novaya Gazeta and Dozhd news outlets.

 Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechen leader
Head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov (R) speaks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on August 31, 2019. A Change.org petition calling for Kadyrov to be removed as Chechnya's president has been gaining momentum. ALEXEY NIKOLSKY/Getty