On January 11th, a court in Sweden sentenced a Russian man who attacked Tumso Abdurakhmanov, a blogger critical of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, to ten years in prison. The attack occurred on February 26th, 2020, when Ruslan Mamayev attacked Abdurakhmanov with a hammer in the Swedish city of Gavle. According to Radio Free Europe, Mamayev claimed that Chechen officials ordered him to attack Abdurakhmanov and also promised to pay him for the assault. Elmira Shapiayeva, an accomplice in the attack, was also sentenced to eight years in prison.
Kadyrov came to power in the Chechen Republic in 2007 by Vladimir Putin’s decree. While Kadyrov originally fought for Chechen independence from Russia following the Soviet Union’s dissolution, Kadyrov’s family joined Russia’s side in the Second Chechen War and came into favor with Moscow’s political class. Following years of internal power struggle in Chechnya, including the assassination of his father, Kadyrov finally claimed the president’s office. He has since billed himself as a champion of Muslims in Europe while fighting extremists in the previously volatile Republic.
The attack in Sweden follows a string of attacks on Kadyrov’s critics. According to Reuters, this string’s victims include Chechen blogger Imran Aliyev, who was killed in Lille in February 2020, as well as a Russian investigative journalist in the same month, who was assaulted after alleging abuses against gay men in Chechnya.
Many countries and human rights organizations have criticized Kadyrov. In July 2020, the United States Department of State designated Kadyrov for sanctions due to “numerous gross violations of human rights dating back more than a decade, including torture and extrajudicial killings.” Notably, these violations include reports of state-sponsored violence against gay men. According to the Intercept, Chechen police have arrested gay men in multiple waves in the last half-decade. A documentary of the torture and sexual assault against gay Chechens was released in summer 2020 following reporting from Russia’s Novaya Gazeta and investigations by the Human Rights Watch.
Kadyrov’s own statements have garnered significant criticism. When asked about the arrests, which have been described as anti-gay pogroms, Kadyrov bluntly responded, “[We] don’t have those kinds of people here… we don’t have any gays. If there are any, take them to Canada.” While international pressure against these abuses has risen, Kadyrov’s warm relationship with Putin, as well as other regional leaders, has allowed his actions to go unpunished.
Kadyrov’s domestic abuse, as well as the foreign attacks on his critics, merit a strong response from European nations – particularly those hosting Chechen asylum seekers. According to a 2019 report from The Guardian, several thousand Chechens in Germany, Poland, and other E.U. countries are at risk of being sent back to Russia. In addition to those already in E.U. countries, many Chechens who reach Brest in Belarus spend their days traveling back and forth to the Polish border, hoping to receive asylum or permission to enter.
The consistent attacks on outspoken critics and dissidents beyond Kadyrov’s control demonstrate the already clear danger his critics are in, even from afar. Countries committed to freedom of expression and political dissent have both the opportunity and the obligation to protect Chechens from this violence.
While the wars and large-scale violence between Chechnya and Russia have subsided, the internal repression Kadyrov has unleashed sours the end of hostilities in that corner of the Caucasus.
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