Attack on human rights defender Kalyapin must be effectively investigated
On 16 March, another attack on the human rights organisation Committee for Prevention of Torture (CPT) took place in Chechnya. The head of the organization, Igor Kalyapin, was attacked outside the Grozny City hotel and forced to leave the republic.
– This is yet an example of the disrespect for human rights and human rights defenders in Chechnya, said Bjørn Engesland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. “It is of outmost importance that authorities put an end to such blatant violations of human rights and conduct genuine investigations. The international community should be strong in demanding accountability.”
The attack happened only a week after Øystein Windstad, a Norwegian journalist with the weekly newspaper Ny Tid, was hospitalized together with other journalists and human rights activists from CPT. They were heavily beaten and their minibus put on fire by masked men on the border between Chechnya and Ingushetia.
Kalyapin had arrived in Grozny in order to prepare a press conference, dedicated to the attack on his colleagues and guests the previous week. In the middle of an interview at the Grozny City hotel, the hotel manager and two armed guards knocked on the door of his room. According to Kalyapin’s facebook account, the manager told him to leave the hotel as he had been criticizing the President of Chechnya and the Chechen police.
Escorted downstairs to leave the hotel, Kalyapin was surrounded by around 30 women who allegedly had been summoned for the occasion to shout offences at him for saying bad things about Ramzan Kadyrov. They kept him the hotel lobby until a group of around 15 masked men outside were ready to attack him with eggs, flour, cake, a bright disinfectant called zelenka, and physical accosting.
Kalyapin was not seriously injured in the incident, but left Chechnya after reporting the incident to the police. Despite their reluctance to respond while the situation was ongoing, they have now started investigation.
– In Chechnya, where human rights abuse is rife and an environment of fear and collective punishment exists, the Committee for Prevention of Torture and the Joint Mobile Group are rare actors, said Lene Wetteland, senior adviser. “Their persistent and transparent work to protect victims of human rights abuses should be commended and supported by authorities. Instead they are subject to criticism and continuous negative statements from authorities in Chechnya, which also forcefully include residents of the republic in protest actions.”
According to Kalyapin, it is likely that Kadyrov is behind the attack. Kadyrov and his aides regularly attack Kalyapin and CPT in the media, saying that they should be stopped within or outside the law. Kalyapin underlined in interviews after the attack that the culprits were neither Muslims nor Chechens. – “I am fully capable of separating Chechens from Kadyrovtsy”, he said.
The attack is the last in a row of attacks on the outspoken human rights activist Igor Kalyapin and the Committee for Prevention of Torture. On 9 March, a press tour organized by the CPT was attacked on the border between Chechnya and Ingushetia. Four of the people on the minibus, including the Norwegian journalist Øystein Windstad and the driver, were hospitalized. Few moments later, the Joint Mobile Group (JMG) office in Karabulak, Ingushetia, was raided. The JMG is a CPT project to use lawyers from all over Russia in Chechnya for shorter time periods in order to deal with sensitive human rights cases.
The JMG office had been relocated to Ingushetia after the Grozny office was attacked by a mob in June 2015. The mob also set fire to the car the JMG depends on for their response to reports of torture. The previous office of JMG was subject to arson in December 2014 and all documents destroyed.
The Committee against Torture was put on the list of foreign agents in 2015 and liquidated themselves in order to continue their work as Committee for Prevention of Torture. They respond to reports of torture in several regions of Russia, and are among few organisations able to continue work in Chechnya. Kalyapin has also on several occasions publicly criticised statements by President Kadyrov encouraging violence or collective punishment, in breach of the Constitution of the Russian Federation.
Their work has led to repeated condemning statements from President Kadyrov. The human rights ombudsman of Chechnya also recently accused Kalyapin and the CPT of organizing the attack on the minibus themselves.
None of the previous attacks on CPT have been investigated and resolved, and in the meantime, human rights abuse and repression of lawyers, journalists and regular residents of Chechnya continue with full impunity from legal persecution.
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