Amnesty: 25 Doctors Put in 'Filtration' Jail

A team of 25 Chechen doctors and nurses has been in Russian detention for about three weeks and is likely being held in a so-called "filtration camp," according to a report released Wednesday by the Amnesty International human rights group.

The doctors and nurses are probably being held at a camp inside the Russian military base at Mozdok, near the Chechen border, Amnesty said - adding that the medical team may be victims of torture.

After weeks of official denial, the existence of filtration camps was admitted last week by an official with the Justice Ministry, Vladimir Yelunin, in an interview with Radio Liberty. At least four camps have been documented, including camps in Mozdok, Grozny and the village of Chernokozovo.

But Yelunin, who heads the corrections department of the Justice Ministry, denied allegations that the Russian camp guards beat, torture and on occasion rape the Chechen detainees, and would only acknowledge that "it's damp and dark there."

Suspects are in theory taken to a filtration camp so guerrillas and their accomplices can be "filtered" out of the civilian population.

In practice, however, hundreds of Chechens - including women and children - have been herded into such camps. According to Amnesty's information, the Chernokozovo camp holds 700 people alone.

Abuses were widespread in the filtration camps of the Russian-Chechen war of 1994-96. That they are occurring again today has been documented by the reporting of New York-based Human Rights Watch, the French newspaper Le Monde, The Moscow Times and other media and rights groups, usually in the testimony of camp prisoners who were freed by friends or relatives who paid bribes.

Khasuyev, a 38-year-old Chechen who spent eight January days in the Chernokozovo camp, recounted to The Moscow Times that he was beaten every day, "and so was everyone else," and also chained to an iron bed and tortured with electricity.

Three other men who spent time in mid-January in Chernokozovo and were interviewed by Human Rights Watch recounted similar horrors. They described being forced to run down a corridor of rubber-truncheon wielding camp guards who beat them as they passed.

They also described being summoned to torture sessions, and being ordered to introduce themselves upon arriving. "Citizen Officer, thank you for seeing me," they would say.

And they recounted both men and women in the camp being raped.

"They called one man out of his cell," said one man, quoted anonymously by Human Rights Watch. "They took him out and without saying anything, they started beating him very cruelly with their feet and truncheons. We could hear everything. Then the soldiers ordered him to undress. Then they laid him on something, maybe they tied him to something. Something was done to him, an act like pedophiles do, sodomy. We heard him say, 'Please, please, this is not necessary.'

"There were two or three such cases, the same thing happened twice to that same person, and I think another man. They renamed him Alla, they said, 'From now on you will be Alla, a woman.'"

Amnesty called on Vladimir Kalamanov, the newly appointed human rights ombudsman for Chechnya, to open the camps to outside observers, Russian and foreign: "The first task for Vladimir Kalamanov" is to let in independent observers, "first and foremost the International Committee of the Red Cross."

The team of 25 doctors and nurses Amnesty believes is being held in the Mozdok camp was led by Umar Khambiyev, a doctor who ran a hospital during the first war. Mariana Katzarova, Amnesty's Russia-based researcher, said the hospital was supplied by the Red Cross, observed by British doctors and treated Russian soldiers, Chechen fighters and civilians impartially.

In recognition of that work, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov named Khambiyev his health minister in 1996.

Khambiyev's brother, Magomed, is a well-known Chechen military leader, and is sometimes referred to as Chechnya's defense minister. Katzarova said that may be why Dr. Khambiyev's medical team was targeted.

In this latest war, Katzarova said, Khambiyev's medical team lacked a hospital - most have been destroyed by air strikes - and simply worked in cellars and private homes.