Imran Aliev, a 44-year old blogger from Chechnya, was recently murdered in his hotel room in Lille, France. He was found with multiple stab wounds in his neck and on-site evidence suggested a physical struggle. Thus far no suspects have been identified, but local authorities suspect that the killing may have been politically motivated. Mr. Aliev fled his home due to threats against his life and had been living in Belgium for the past few years under police protection. An unnamed visitor from Chechnya contacted Imran days before the assassination and requested that he accompany him to France. The man disappeared shortly after Imran’s death.
Speaking to the Guardian, fellow Chechen video blogger Tumso Abdurakhmanov stated that he had, “-no doubt that [Aliev] was on a list of people who have been sentenced to death.” Another Chechen journalist, Musa Taipov, told the Guardian that Imran was “-murdered especially cruelly,” but expressed personal doubt that he was killed on orders from the Chechen government. Mr. Aliev had evidently made enemies not only in Chechnya, but had just recently received a slew of threats from the nearby region of Ingushetia as well.
Politically-motivated killings are sadly nothing new for Chechens. Just last year, a man named Zelimkhan Khangoshvili was assassinated in broad daylight in a park in Berlin. A veteran of the Chechen Wars who fought against Russian forces in the early 2000s, authorities widely suspected he was murdered as an enemy of the Russian and Chechen state. The current head of the Chechen government, Ramzan Kadyrov, has been accused of a multitude of human rights abuses in the years since he took power in 2007. In 2019, Human Rights Watch reported that security forces in the region employed widespread kidnappings of political dissidents and suspected jihadists as well as committed acts of torture on those they detained. Hundreds have fled over the years since Kadyrov took power, but most never make it to the confines of the European Union. The farthest most can go with their Russian passport is the town of Brest in Belarus on the border with Poland. Once there, they have to apply for asylum. More often than not they are turned away and left to fend for themselves.
Many of those fleeing are families who are subject to collective punishment. Those that are granted asylum remain vulnerable to Chechen agents that operate abroad. Even police protection cannot guarantee safety as Mr. Aliev’s case proved. The governments of the European Union are, simply put, not doing all in their power to protect those fleeing persecution in Chechnya. The Russian government at best does nothing about it and at worst is complicit in kidnappings, and assassinations.
The Chechen Republic, although not its own country, is one of several ethnic semi-autonomous regions within the Russian Federation. This affords the region a degree of freedom in setting its own policies. These include discriminatory policies such as the mass detention of those in the LGBTQ community, as well as forced disappearances and torture in general. Kadyrov got his start in politics during the Chechen Wars as a local warlord under his father Akhmad. The pair defected to the Russian side and after the conflict the father ascended to the presidency, while the son kept the region in check with his own security forces. Akmad was assassinated in 2004 and his son took up the mantle of head of state when he became eligible in 2007. Since then, Kadyrov has ruled with Moscow’s blessing.
Given his effectiveness at suppressing local insurgencies and the Kremlin’s unwillingness to reign him in, it is unlikely that human rights abuses will abate at all under his watch. More victims of the rampant persecution will amass at the European Union’s borders. If not given protection, many will fall prey to the same types of contract killers that claimed the lives of Mr. Khangoshvili and possibly Aliev. The European Union is a party to the 1951 Convention on Refugees that proclaims the basic rights of those displaced from their homes due to real and perceived threats of violence. Those persecuted in Chechnya fit every definition of refugee status as outlined in the convention. It falls to the governments of the European Union to protect them, as no one else will.
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