Were the Nemtsov Murder Suspects ‘Tortured’?

photo Zaur Dadaev

by Gordon M. Hahn

U.S. media immediately began reporting that the suspects in the murder of Boris Nemtsov were “tortured” without checking further. Many cited Russian Presidential Council for Human Rights member Andrei Babushkin, who asserted there was torture but could only cite cuts on their ankles and claimed they had been shackled on their ankles (Public Broadcasting System, http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/rights-watchdog-says-nemtsov-murder-suspects-likely-tortured/; Reuters, http://news.yahoo.com/suspects-nemtsov-killing-probably-tortured-russian-rights-activist-103237475.html; Voice of America, www.voanews.com/content/nemtsov-murder-suspect-may-have-confessed-under-torture/2675487.html; and The Moscow Times, http://www.themoscowtimes.com/news/article/russian-rights-activist-says-nemtsov-murder-suspects-likely-being-tortured/517279.html).

PBS distorted reality when it described the body to which the person claiming that torture occurred belongs as “Council Under the President of the Russian Federation for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights.” This wording suggests that the main body involved is called the Russian Federation for the Development of Civil Society and that it might be a private rather than state organ. In fact the body is properly called “Council for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights under the President of the Russian Federation” and was established by Russian President Vladimir Putin (www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/rights-watchdog-says-nemtsov-murder-suspects-likely-tortured/).

The BBC reported in its headline that “Dadaev was tortured by electric shock,” but Babushkin had only stated that there marks on Dadaev’s fingers similar to those found when one is subjected to electric shock and that experts would need to review the claim (www.bbc.co.uk/russian/multimedia/2015/03/150310_v_nemtsov_babushkin_onk_dadaev). Not reported by the same Western press organs were the results of an inspection carried out by Moscow’s Public Monitoring Commission (ONK) when it visited the defendants. This is odd since its chairman gave a long interview on his prison visit to the anti-Putin, opposition Internet TV channel Dozhd’ (rain) and Western journalists largely support the Russian opposition and watch Dozhd’ frequently. (http://tvrain.ru/articles/novye_pokazanija_v_dele_nemtsova_zhizn_posle_kapkova_i_skolko_gubernatory_tratjat_na_lososevuju_ikru_itogi_11_marta-383738/).

The commission is charged with monitoring the observation of citizens arrested or otherwise interacting with authorities in Moscow. Such commissions, present in every Russian region, were empowered by reforms implemented during the presidency of Dmitry Medvedev and have the right to visit any detainees or prisoners at any time during working hours without the permission from local or prison authorities.

Thus, the ONK took testimony regarding their treatment since being arrested, which was recorded and sent to Russian law enforcement organs to make a determination on whether the testimony constituted evidence that the suspects’ alleged treatment violated their rights. ONK Chairman Anton Tsvetkov, who headed the inspection delegation, summed up what he saw and heard when visiting Dadaev and the Gubashev brothers, Anzor and Shagid, on March 11th in the anti-Putin TV channel Dozhd’ (Rain) main news broadcast (http://tvrain.ru/articles/novye_pokazanija_v_dele_nemtsova_zhizn_posle_kapkova_i_skolko_gubernatory_tratjat_na_lososevuju_ikru_itogi_11_marta-383738/).

First, Tsvetkov said that all three detained suspects said the conditions of their detainment since being sent to Moscow after their initial detention in the Ingushetiya are good by every parameter: exercise time, food, etc. Tsvetkov then described the physical condition and the complaints of Dadaev and the Gubashevs about their arrest and detention in the North Caucasus in connection with the Nemtsov murder before arriving in Moscow.

Tsvetkov noted that Anzor Gubashev had bruises on his posterior obtained when he was first physically detained by Ingushetiya police and that in his experience this is not unusual given the typical physical struggle that occurs during initial apprehensions involving cases of grave crimes. He mentions that in one attempted detention regarding the Nemtsov case that one potential detainee threw grenades at police and then detonated one killing himself; this was to say that police need to be quick and perhaps rough in detaining such suspects. He added that when the delegation asked him if he been ill-treated in any way since the initial detainment, Gubashev answered that he had not. In contrast to his brother, Shagid Gubashev said that he had been subjected to physical “pressure” during and after detention, but the delegation and medics found no signs of body damage. Moreover, Shagid claimed that the police had “tortured” his brother Anzor with a baseball bat, suggesting anal penetration, which his brother said was not true and medics found no evidence to support. Shagid also said that one of the police kicked him in the face, but the delegations saw no marks on his face of any kind.

Regarding Dadaev, he said he was subjected to physical pressure but the only marks found on his body were minor cuts on his wrist from the handcuffs and on the right foot. Dadaev’s claim that he had been tortured with electric shock was also checked by medics and his extremities showed no signs of burns or other marks connected with such methods. Tsvetkov also defended Babushkin, who he said was honest. Babushkin was summoned and designated a witness in the case by the Investigation Committee after he claimed Dadaev had been tortured.

Thus, it appears that at the worst the detainees were handled a little roughly in the struggle to secure their detention, but no evidence of torture can be inferred from the observations reported by Tsvetkov. Moreover, Dadaev’s lawyer, Ivan Gerasimov, stated on March 12th that his clients neither had been tortured nor complained that they had (http://riafan.ru/223456-zashhita-dadaeva-otritsaet-chto-ego-pyitali/ and Itar-Tass). Tsvetkov’s and Gerasimov’s were not reported in the Western mass media.

It must be added that it is no less unusual for criminals and terrorists to make false claims of torture and mistreatment than it is for Russian law enforcement, particularly that in the North Caucasus, to mistreat detainees. At the same time, it is also true that police and security forces quite often violate political, civil, and human rights in the North Caucasus, which includes the use of torture, abductions, and murder.

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NOTE:

Interfax (which also reported the original claim of torture)
March 12, 2015
Nemtsov murder suspect was not tortured – lawyer
A lawyer for one of the men charged with the murder of Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov has dismissed suggestions that his client was tortured in order to force him to confess to the crime, the privately-owned Russian news agency Interfax reported on 12 March.
Ivan Gerasimov said that his client, Zaur Dadayev, had told him investigators had not subjected him to any “physical or psychological pressure.” Gerasimov’s remarks came the day after Andrey Babushkin, a member of Russia’s presidential human rights council, said he had visited Dadayev in prison and seen wounds on Dadayev’s body that suggested he had been tortured.
“My client did not complain of torture and said, including with respect to the investigative measures in which he was involved, that no physical or psychological pressure was exerted on him. During those investigative measures, no breaches were committed by employees of the Russian Investigations Committee,” Interfax quoted Gerasimov as saying. He added that Dadayev had “given testimony in the criminal case” and had “actively cooperated with the investigation.”
Russian state news agency RIA Novosti quoted Gerasimov as saying: “I didn’t see any physical damage, except the marks left by the handcuffs.”
Babushkin, however, has stuck to his version of events. “Dadayev told us five times that, had illicit methods not been used to influence him, the statements he made would have been different,” he said at a news conference hosted by Interfax on 12 March.
“We found injuries on his legs, in the region of his ankles. He maintained that he was put in shackles. It should be said that shackles have been banned in our country since 1904,” Babushkin added.

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Gordon M. Hahn is an Analyst and Advisory Board Member of the Geostrategic Forecasting Corporation, Chicago, Illinois; Senior Researcher, Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group, San Jose, California Analyst/Consultant, Russia Other Points of View – Russia Media Watch; and Senior Researcher and Adjunct Professor, MonTREP, Monterey, California. Dr Hahn is author of three well-received books, Russia’s Revolution From Above (Transaction, 2002), Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007), which was named an outstanding title of 2007 by Choice magazine, and The ‘Caucasus Emirate’ Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland Publishers, 2014).  He has been a Senior Associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (2011-2013) and a Visiting Scholar at the Hoover Institution and the Kennan Institute. Dr. Hahn has authored hundreds of articles in scholarly journals and other publications on Russian, Eurasian and international politics and wrote, edited and published the Islam, Islamism, and Politics in Eurasia Report (IIPER) at CSIS from 2010-2013.

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