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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Memorial: Chechen Staff Endangered

The Memorial human rights group said Thursday that the military has started to actively threaten its members working in the Chechen offices and it was considering closing them down.

In the latest incident, a brother of Doka Islayev, head of Memorial's Urus-Martan office, was arrested Wednesday afternoon at a checkpoint while the two brothers were on their way from Urus-Martan to the family's village, Goiskoye, said Lipkhan Bazayeva, Memorial's representative in Nazran, the Ingush capital.

A photograph of a Chechen OMON policeman was planted in the pocket of Said-Khusein Islayev, and he was told he was suspected of plotting to murder the man, Bazayeva said Thursday by telephone. Neither of the brothers knew the man in the photo, she said.

Doka Islayev, who reported the incident to her office, was trying to locate his brother, she said.

"It is a very special method used by troops to impose fear in our workers," Bazayeva said. "They were afraid to do it to Doka because he is a very respected person and a Memorial member and it would be hard to prove any wrongdoing by him, but his brother is just an ordinary man and they will not even bother to find evidence. We are afraid that he will just disappear like many other Chechens."

Memorial has worked in Chechnya throughout the military campaign, providing locals with legal advice and collecting individual records of harassment, torture and murder of civilians by federal troops. The group employs 13 people, all native Chechens, in its offices in Grozny, Gudermes and Urus-Martan.

Bazayeva said an employee of the Grozny office, Shamil Tangiyev, has been hiding in Nazran since he only just escaped arrest two weeks ago when masked troops walked into his home late at night.

"Luckily for him he was in Nazran that night," she said. "But the troops came after him again several times and the neighbors told our Grozny office that they were looking for Tangiyev saying he is a rebel."

At the end of July, the Memorial office in Grozny was broken into by federal troops, who smashed down the door and turned the office upside down, said Oleg Orlov, who heads Memorial's board. Orlov said no one was in the office when the troops came, but the staff walked in in the middle of the raid.

Bazayeva said all the staff feels unsafe, even in Nazran. "We are all afraid," she said. "Even here, I am terrified to think that something could happen to my children."

The office of Sergei Yastrzhembsky, the Kremlin's spokesman on Chechnya, said it could not comment on the arrest of Said-Khusein Islayev and suggested calling Chechen authorities. The Chechen prosecutor's office refused to comment, and a police officer, who refused to give his name, said finding the missing man would not be easy.

"Look, it depends on where he was taken -- to Khankala, to the republic or federal OMON, to SOBR [a rapid-reaction squad], and by whom -- by Defense or Interior troops," the officer said. "You are unlikely to find anyone to comment on this."

Interfax quoted Nikolai Kostyuchenko, a Chechen prosecutor, as saying Aug. 3 that in the past 2 1/2 years, 1,050 people disappeared in Chechnya, including 320 people in the first half of 2002.

A source in the presidential administration said "there is no war against Memorial in Chechnya."

But Orlov said that considering all the threats and attacks on Memorial's staff in Chechnya in the past 10 months, it was clear that a campaign was on to pressure human rights activists to leave the republic.

He said Memorial is reluctantly considering closing its offices in Chechnya to protect its staff. "That would mean the closure of the biggest channel of independent information from the republic and basically the stoppage of any possible open dialogue between civil society and the state," Orlov said.