This is a condensed and edited version of original report, published by Novaya Gazeta.
Earlier this year, Chechnya shocked the world with a brutal crackdown on gay men. Now, Russia’s independent Novaya Gazeta newspaper reports that Russia’s most authoritarian region extrajudicially executed 27 more people. This may be among the most frightening extrajudicial killings in Chechnya’s bloody history.
Novaya Gazeta believes — but cannot yet prove — that these men were suspected of “extremism,” a common accusation in a region that has struggled with armed Islamist and separatist insurgency for years. After passing all its information onto the official investigators, Novaya Gazeta continued its own investigation into the fate of these men. These are the conclusions:
Another Exposed Crackdown
In early January, Chechen security forces carried out sweep operations and mass detentions in several parts of Chechnya. However, the detained were neither officially registered, nor presented with the criminal charges they faced. Instead, they were thrown in the basements and storage rooms of police precincts. The sweep operations continued until the end of January, and over 200 people were detained, according to Novaya Gazeta’s investigation.
Watch More: LGBTI Executions In Russia's Chechnya, Explained
While investigating these detentions, Novaya Gazeta discovered that six people detained on January 9-10 were on a list of likely murder victims that it had passed to investigators. The newspaper was also able to get a list of people detained in January from the Chechen branch of Russia’s Interior Ministry. The journalists then established the towns where these detainees resided. Comparing this new data with the original list of likely murder victims, Novaya Gazeta was able to determine the fates another 21 people. The newspaper believes that they were detained and subsequently executed.
In the city of Shali, where the largest number of detentions occurred, Novaya Gazeta managed to establish the addresses of the victims. But attempts to gain further information met little success. Virtually everyone the newspaper contacted was afraid to talk. One such contact, an employee of the Shali city administration, panicked and declined to even hear the surnames of the victims.
“Everyone who was detained in Shali in January is gone,” he said. “Don’t look for them.”
How Many Were Executed?
Currently, Novaya Gazeta knows of 27 people who evidence suggests were killed. However, the newspaper suspects there may be as many as 56 victims. All these people were detained at different times. But they all likely died on the same date: the night of January 25.
According to Novaya Gazeta’s information, the detainees were shot dead and hastily buried in numerous cemeteries.
On this night, the detainees were held on a police patrol regiment’s base in the Chechen capital of Grozny. According to one of the victim’s relatives, an influential Chechen official capable of gaining information on the disappearance of detainees, a deputy minister, several commanders of the security forces, and the heads of local Interior Ministry branches were all present at the base on that night.
According to Novaya Gazeta’s information, the detainees were shot dead and hastily buried in numerous cemeteries. The decision to extrajudicially execute them appears to have been taken in a centralized and, strangely, spontaneous fashion.
What Is The Evidence?
Novaya Gazeta has confirmed its conclusions with two sources — one in the Chechen branch of the Russian Investigative Committee and one in the administration of the Head of the Chechen Republic. The newspaper suspects that this may be among the most frightening extrajudicial killings in Chechnya’s bloody history.
However, it cannot prove this. It can only insist that the authorities open a criminal case and investigate these murders.
Many of the victims’ families still do not know the fate of their loved ones.
Novaya Gazeta has decided to publish a list of the 27 victims it can confirm because the authorities have been ineffective in investigating such extrajudicial killings in Chechnya. The list proves that there is indeed enough information to investigate.
Many of the victims’ families still do not know the fate of their loved ones. They still hope that the detainees will return home alive. They are still looking for them and asking the police about their whereabouts. They are still hearing the same excuses: “Maybe they’ve already run off to Syria.” “You should look after your own relatives yourself. What do you want from us?”
Additional Backround Info You Need To Know
In Chechnya, likely Russia’s most authoritarian region, mass reprisals against the public are a regular occurrence.
Novaya Gazeta published a shocking report on a mass campaign of detentions, torture, and murder against Chechen gay men in early April. According to the newspaper’s sources, at least three Chechen gays were killed and over 100 were caught in local security forces’ homophobic dragnet.
Facing overwhelming condemnation around the world, the Russian federal authorities agreed to carry out a preliminary investigation into extrajudicial killings in Chechnya. Convincing the federal authorities to open an investigation — even a preliminary one — was an overwhelming and unexpected victory for rights defenders.
Novaya Gazeta passed all information in its possession on the anti-gay repressions to investigators. It also handed over a list of over 20 other Chechens who had been detained and executed since December 2016.
In the wake of the scandal surrounding the anti-gay reprisals, Russia assigned an investigator to look into the case. He planned to meet with the victims and convince them to give their testimony. However, his investigation lasted only two weeks, and then he was unexpectedly transferred to another government office. The Chechnya investigation was then transferred to another investigator, who took a predictable position: the victims won’t report the crime, so therefore the crime never occurred.
Now, the Russian preliminary investigation has hit a dead end due to interference and apathy on the part of these same federal authorities. As a result, Novaya Gazeta decided to publish the names of the 27 executed Chechen men.
The full list can be viewed at the end of Novaya Gazeta's publication on the case.
/Translated and adapted by Matthew Kupfer