June 14, 2023

"Go Defend Your Homeland"


"Go Defend Your Homeland"
Chechen troops on the Russian side in Donbas, June 2022 Gennadiy Dubovoy, Wikimedia Commons

The human rights project SK SOS reported that law enforcement officers in Chechnya are using blackmail and threats to send local residents to Russia's War in Ukraine.

A recruitment campaign for volunteers was launched by Chechen authorities following the war's outbreak, promising generous rewards for army service. Yet when this initiative failed to yield the desired results, law enforcement officers adopted a new approach.

The SK SOS project discovered that Chechen security forces maintain a comprehensive database of individuals previously detained for drug and alcohol offenses, expressing critical views about the government, or being suspected of identifying as LGBTQ. In the past, such individuals were exploited for financial gain through a detain-and-release-for-ransom scheme. However, now authorities are forcing these individuals to sign contracts and go to war. Should they refuse, detainees are threatened with persecution, or with the prospect of their family members being sent to the front lines.

"People are simply faced with a choice: either a lengthy prison term or go to Ukraine," said one source "And if you have a big family, then what? If you don’t go, they will frame your brother and send him. They forced a lot of people to go there like that."

According to SK SOS, individuals are detained in secret prisons, rather than official pre-trial detention centers, and thus do not have any legal status. SK SOS provided details about one such clandestine facility, which houses some 70 prisoners, at least two of whom were detained for suspicion of identifying as LGBTQ, while others were held for drug or alcohol-related offenses, document forgery, and theft.

A former inmate of one of these secret prisons said that, at the beginning of mobilization, the security forces asked the detainees if somebody wanted to go to work. Almost two-thirds of the detainees agreed to “go to work,” and a few months later, only about 20 remained in custody. Others went to war.

The war has also become a convenient pretext to eliminate business competitors. According to SK SOS, Tabarik, the daughter of Chechen Republic leader Ramzan Kadyrov, is associated with Grozny Taxi, a service that has monopolized the market through political pressure. The SK SOS report suggested that, following the announcement of mobilization, security forces launched frequent raids in areas where taxi drivers typically operate. Officers issued fines on spurious grounds or confiscated vehicles, leaving the drivers destitute. They were then told, "You have no money and no job now, go defend your homeland."

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