Chechen Human Rights Group’s Office Ransacked by Protesters

An Attack on the Committee's Against Torture Office in Chechnya
Children stand next to a vehicle belonging to the Committee Against Torture which was damaged during a rally near its headquarters in Grozny, Russia, June 3, 2015. Masked men, some wielding hammers, stormed the office of human rights organization Committee Against Torture, in the southern Russian region of Chechnya, on Wednesday during a protest against its work, the group said. Stringer / Reuters

A group of people broke into the office of the Committee Against Torture, one of the only human rights non-governmental organizations based in the Russian republic of Chechnya, and ransacked it, according to representatives of the organization. They said the intruders were participating in what was billed as a peaceful demonstration against the Committee’s actions, but the situation escalated quickly.

Earlier in the day, several hundred people holding signs such as “Bring the Murderers to Justice” and “Dadayev is a victim of lawlessness” gathered next to the office of the Chechen branch of the Federal Investigative Committee, which is located close to the Committee Against Torture office in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya. The signs were referencing the recent case of Jambulat Dadayev, a Chechen native who was wanted for murder in the neighboring region of Stavropol and, in April, was shot and killed by Stavropol police in Groznyy while resisting arrest. The president of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, has raised doubts about the allegations against Dadayev and expressed outrage about the fact that law enforcement agents from another region were operating on his soil. He publicly ordered the Chechen police to shoot to kill anyone who would try to conduct any police operations in Chechnya without his knowledge.

The protesters were arguing that the Committee Against Torture, which has been uncovering kidnappings and torture in Chechnya for years, should look into Dadayev’s case, instead of “trying to create problems out of nowhere,” according to Chechen state TV. Shortly after the demonstration began, the protesters went to the Committee’s office and started destroying a car that belonged to the Committee and storming the doors with hammers and crowbars, according to Tweets posted by staff at the Committee at the time. Some people, with masks on their faces, climbed up to the Committee’s balcony. Then the protesters broke into the office and destroyed documents and equipment.

Security footage from the Committee was posted on YouTube:

Igor Kalyapin, the head of the organization, said his initial efforts to contact the Chechen chief of police were not successful. Later, however, the police arrived to the scene, and the deputy minister of the Interior announced that they had determined the identities of the intruders and arrested 30 people.  

Chechen state TV station reported that a “spontaneous picket against the politicization of human rights protection” happened in Grozny. It did not mention the violence at all.

Kadyrov wrote a post about the incident on Instagram, saying that the demonstration was authorized and that the protesters only “damaged some office furniture.” “We are concerned that these people [the Committee] who don’t have anything to do with human rights advocacy consistently create a nervous atmosphere in the republic, trying to instigate civil unrest,” he wrote, adding, however, that he doesn’t condone breaking the law and that the Chechen law enforcement will conduct a proper investigation of the break-in.

This is not the first time the Committee Against Torture has faced problems in Chechnya. Last December, its office was set on fire shortly after Kalyapin asked the Prosecutor’s General office and the Investigative Committee to examine statements made by Kadyrov—he had said that the Chechen government would persecute the relatives of the known terrorists, which resulted in multiple house burnings across the republic. Kadyrov also accused Kalyapin of sponsoring the terrorists. “I am in charge of defending human rights in Chechnya,” Kadyrov wrote on his Instagram at the time.

Kadyrov has been in the center of multiple controversies lately. He advocated for Zaur Dadayev, a former high-ranking Chechen military officer accused of the murder of the opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, calling him “a fearless and courageous man.” He also declared that the Boston Marathon bomber Dzokhar Tsarnaev was framed by American security forces. Just last week Open Russia, an organization funded by a former Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, released a documentary about Kadyrov and his administration called The Family. (On Wednesday, it was blocked by YouTube for several hours on the ground of a copyright infringement claim. It has since been unblocked.)

On Monday, the Russian newspaper Kommersant published an extensive investigation of the structure of the Ahmat Kadyrov Charity Foundation, alleging that it is used by Kadyrov and his allies to accumulate funds, extort money from citizens and exert control over real estate and commercial enterprises in Chechnya. The Chechen government responded to the investigation by announcing a demonstration against “media aggression against Chechnya and Russia.” The demonstration was supposed to happen on Wednesday, but was canceled the night before. Instead, a smaller demonstration against the Committee Against Torture was organized, which resulted in the attack on the Committee’s office.