The U.S.-based pressure group Human Rights Watch recently accused security forces in Russia's North Caucasus republic of Kabardino-Balkariya of using abuse and ill-treatment to coerce confessions from suspects detained over October's militant raids on the regional capital Nalchik. Lawyers for people arrested in the wake of the attack now say they have evidence their clients are being tortured in police custody.
Prague, 6 December 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Pictures are circulating of Rasul Kudaev before and after his arrest following the deadly Nalchik raids.
Before, Kudaev is at home, looking relaxed and happy.
After, Kudaev is almost unrecognizable, with the lower part of his face swollen to grotesque proportions.
His lawyer, Aleksandra Zernova, along with other Russian lawyers have sent 15 such photographs to Western media and human rights organizations.
Several Russian news outlets -- including the "Gazeta" daily and the "newsru.com" information site -- have published some of the photographs.
Zernova said the pictures are irrefutable evidence that Kudaev and fellow Nalchik detainees -- all arrested on suspicion of ties with Islamic militants -- are being tortured.
Speaking with RFE/RL’s North Caucasus Service by telephone from London, Zernova accused authorities in Kabardino-Balkariya of lying to relatives and lawyers about the conditions in which the detainees are being held.
“The chief doctor at the detention facility where Rasul is being held has repeatedly told Rasul’s mother that everything was fine with her son, that no one was tormenting him," Zernova said. "Now, with these photographs, we can see for ourselves. We have evidence that authorities are telling us utter lies.”
But Zernova said authorities continue to deny the detainees are being tortured despite the publication of the photographs.
“They say no violation has been committed. Rasul’s mother, Fatima Tekaeva, last Friday (2 December) was summoned to the regional prosecutor’s office," Zernova said. "People there asked her why she thinks her son is being abused. They told her she had no evidence to sustain her claims. And all this came after these photographs had been published in the press.”
This is not Kudaev's first arrest. He was detained in Afghanistan in 2001 on suspicion of ties with the country’s ousted ruling Taliban militia. The U.S. military command later sent him to the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Kudaev and other Russian Guantanamo detainees were released in May 2004 after U.S. military authorities reportedly found the evidence against them inconclusive.
They were then moved to a detention facility in the southern Russian city of Pyatigorsk before being authorized to return home.
But Kudaev’s half-brother Arsen Mokaev told RFE/RL’s North Caucasus Service that was not the end of their troubles.
“When they were released from Pyatigorsk, people from the [Russian] Prosecutor-General’s Office told them this was not a farewell and that they would see each other soon," Mokaev said. "And that proved to be true. [Even before 23 October], they came periodically to take Rasul away.”
Mokaev recalled on episode when armed men wearing masks assaulted his brother before hauling him away in a car with no registration plates.
“They beat him up near our house before throwing him into a car and taking him away to the [Interior Ministry’s] anti-organized crime directorate," Mokaev said. "They released him only after Aleksandra Zernova had started calling people from London to inquire where he was. They released him after four hours without bringing any charges. They kept him four hours and released him. Our mother wrote to the [republican] prosecutor’s office to complain, and the only answer she got was a note saying these people had done nothing illegal and that Rasul had not been physically abused.”
Human-rights campaigners in Kabardino-Balkariya say the October raid on Nalchik has triggered a new wave of harassment against Muslims whose observance falls outside the republic's strictures of official Islam.
Nearly all eyewitness accounts of the raid suggest the attack was carried out by young Nalchik residents led by a small group of experienced fighters. People in Nalchik say many of the attackers were young Muslim dissidents who had long been enduring police abuse and turned to violence out of despair.
Russian authorities have admitted to arresting nearly 50 people in connection with the Nalchik raid.
But rights campaigners believe the number of detainees is much higher. Claims that some people died in police custody have not been independently verified.
In a report released last month, Human Rights Watch said at least eight people detained on suspicion of ties to the October raids were subjected to ill treatment “that in some cases may amount to torture.”
The group called upon Russian law-enforcement agencies to stop using torture in security operations officially aimed at fighting terrorism.
But reports from the region suggest little has changed.
Mokaev said what happened to his half-brother is not an isolated case. Many people, he added, have also disappeared without a trace, and "no one knows where they are."
A slideshow look at the October 13-14 violence in Nalchik, capital of the Russian North Caucasus Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria.