Wednesday, 31 August 2016

No room for dissent, human rights in Chechnya

In less than two years Russia will host the 2018 Fifa World Cup. In less than a year it will host the 2017 Fifa Confederations Cup. In less than three weeks it will stage parliamentary and presidential elections in the Russian republic of Chechnya, the first time that its local gangster/governor Ramzan Kadyrov - appointed by the Kremlin in 2007 - will be subject to the democratic will of the people.

He's not got much to worry about, according to a 56-page report released by Human Rights Watch (HRW) yesterday. Even the mildest of criticism against Kadyrov by citizens or journalists has been met by severe repressive measures, including beatings and disappearances. The "battered" body of one critic who reportedly made a "flippant comment" about Kadyrov was found two weeks later 40 kilometres from the capital Grozny.
The committee for planning free and fair elections
in the Russian Republic of Chechnya

"The local authorities’ severe and sweeping crackdown seems designed to remind the Chechen public of Kadyrov’s total control and to contain the flow of any negative information from Chechnya that could undermine the Kremlin’s support for Kadyrov," HRW writes. "Even the mildest comments contradicting local policies or government ideas can trigger ruthless reprisals – whether expressed openly, in closed groups, on social media, or through off-hand comments to a journalist or in a public place."

One of the few institutions defending human rights in the region, the Joint Mobile Group of Human Rights Defenders in Chechnya (JMG), has been forced out of the region after security forces, or their "apparent proxies", burned or ransacked their offices three times in two and a half years. Activists have been physically attacked, and the group smeared by the government-controlled Chechen media. The JMG was, says HRW, "the only organization on the ground that provided legal assistance to victims of abuses by local law enforcement and security agencies. It had to withdraw its team from Chechnya in early 2016 for security reasons."

Who will be standing against Kadyrov? No one with a chance of winning. "There are no independent voices left within the Chechen republic, and those who tried to express their opinions… were severely punished," Yekaterina Sokirianskaya, head of the Russian office of the International Crisis Group, told The Moscow Times earlier this year.

Will there be World Cup football in Chechnya? There's a new stadium, but it's probably not big enough to qualify for Fifa White Elephant status. The 30,000-capacity Akhmat-Arena in Grozny was named after Kadyrov's assassinated father and former head of state Akhmat. It was inaugurated in 2011 with the help of Diego Maradona and Luis Figo playing in a match that featured Kadyrov the younger turning out for a "Team Caucasas". Sadly for Kamyrov and his henchmen, it's not been named as one of the venues for Russia 2018.

Former Dutch captain Ruud Gullit coached Terek Grozny in 2011, shrugging off concerns about the human rights situation there by declaring, "I don't want to be involved in politics, I want to concentrate on the sport and give the people there a little pleasure in their lives again." That doubtless immense pleasure included just three wins in six months before Gullit was fired.

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