Chechen politician threatens to ‘rip heads off’ family of activist

Death threat follow arrest in Russia of mother of exiled anti-torture lawyer Abubakar Yangulbayev

A Chechen politician has threatened to “rip the heads off” the family of an anti-torture activist whose mother was arrested and forcibly returned to the tightly controlled republic.

Zarema Musayeva, the mother of Abubakar Yangulbayev, an exiled former lawyer for the Committee Against Torture, was detained by Chechen forces in mid-January in the Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod.

Her family say she was kidnapped, and the case has prompted renewed fears that strongman Ramzan Kadyrov’s notorious security services can operate far beyond Chechnya’s borders.

Such fears were inflamed on Wednesday when Adam Delimkhanov – a Chechen lawmaker in Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma – threatened Musayeva’s entire family.

“We will rip off your heads, we will kill you,” Delimkhanov said in an Instagram video. “This is a blood feud,” he added, according to a translation by the BBC Russian service.

Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s director for eastern Europe and central Asia, called on Russian authorities to ensure the family’s safety.

“The Russian authorities must immediately launch a credible, impartial and independent investigation into this blood-curdling death threat,” she said. “Such a statement should never be issued by a powerful member of the federal Russian parliament, and appropriate steps must be taken in response.”

The Committee Against Torture released a CCTV video of unknown men dragging a visibly distressed Musayeva from a lift and said it had sent the case to the European court of human rights.

“Bandits in masks dragged my wife away,” her husband, Saidi Yangulbayev, who is a former Chechen federal judge who has since fallen afoul of the regime, told the media.

Police said Musayeva was detained in connection to an old fraud case. But after Kadyrov alleged the 59-year-old attacked a police officer and “almost rid him of an eye”, a Chechen court on Wednesday ruled she would be behind bars for two months.

Chechen authorities accuse another one of their sons of leading an anti-Kadyrov social media account from abroad.

On Wednesday, tens of thousands attended a rally in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, where government supporters burned photographs of the Yangulbayev family and officials gave speeches on the city’s main square in front of a mosque named for Kadyrov’s father.

The Kremlin said this week that Vladimir Putin had “no plans” on getting involved in the case, but said Wednesday that a letter from Russian media chiefs for the Russian president to look into Kadyrov’s threats against journalists will be considered.

Moscow has often turned a blind eye to Kadyrov, a former warlord turned Putin ally who rules Chechnya, with widespread evidence of the torture of his critics.

Following the arrest, Kadyrov vowed to go after the entire Yangulbayev family.

“This little family has a place waiting for them either in prison, or under ground,” he wrote on Telegram the day after the arrest.

Kadyrov’s security services have targeted exiles in the past, and in December Germany expelled two Russian diplomats over the 2019 murder of a Chechen dissident in Berlin.

Yangulbayev has alleged that in 2015 he was taken to Kadyrov’s residence with his sons, where they were beaten. He said one of his sons was tortured and beaten by Kadyrov himself, and said he came home “almost not alive”.

Staff and agencies

The GuardianTramp

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