Accessibility links

Polish Police Release Chechen Exile Leader


WATCH: Polish police detain Akhmed Zakayev, who is wanted by Russia on terrorism charges. (Reuters video)

A Polish court has ordered the release of Chechen separatist leader Akhmed Zakayev, pending a decision on whether he can be extradited to Russia.


Zakayev was shown on television smiling as he left a Warsaw courthouse before a car collected him. He said that he planned to attend the second day of a two-day congress of Chechen exiles in the town of Pultusk, near Warsaw.


Zakayev arrived in Poland on September 16 despite pledges by Polish police that they would detain him on an international arrest warrant requested by Russia.

Media Crush


He was arrested the next morning. Polish television footage showed him surrounded by police and a crush of media on a Warsaw street.

Zakayev's assistant, Adam Borowski, said the Chechen separatist leader was detained as he was heading to the prosecutors' office in the Polish capital.

"Ahmed Zakayev himself wanted to report here," Borowski said. "There's no success of the police; you can't say they caught Zakayev. But we were prevented from showing our good will."

Police spokesman Mariusz Sokolowski said authorities were responding to an international arrest warrant that obliged them to detain Zakayev and take him to prosecutors in Warsaw. Sokolowski said it is up to the Polish courts to determine whether Zakayev is extradited to Russia.

The head of Russia's North Caucasus Federal District, Aleksandr Khloponin, repeated Russia's demand for Zakayev's extradition, saying Zakayev is an "international terrorist" and "must be tried in Russia."

In Grozny, Chechen Republic Present Ramzan Kadyrov welcomed news of Zakayev's detention.

"We ask all those who have given refuge to our bandits to arrest them and hand them over to us," Kadyrov said. "We are going to punish them according to the law."

However, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk has warned Moscow not to count on the Polish courts to reach a decision they will be happy with. Tusk was quoted today as saying at the EU summit in Brussels that "the extradition procedure is not the same as extradition."

Tusk also warned supporters of an independent Chechnya not to stage any anti-Russian provocations.

Zakayev's detention comes at a time when relations between Warsaw and Moscow have been improving, following the April plane crash in Russia that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski.

Not Entirely Unexpected

Zakayev arrived in Poland on September 16 to attend a two-day conference of Chechen exiles in the town of Pultusk, near Warsaw.

Polish police had warned Zakayev that if he came to the country he would face arrest under an international warrant issued by Russia.

Zakayev told RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service on September 16 in a telephone interview from Warsaw that he was "absolutely legally" in Poland and would not hide from authorities there. Zakayev also told RFE/RL that he had communicated, through his lawyer, his willingness to "answer any questions" asked by the Polish prosecutor's office.

"I don't think Russia has presented any new information [to Polish authorities]," Zakayev said. "Everything they have has already been considered twice by courts in Denmark and Britain. However, if it is necessary and if Polish authorities decide that these questions should be considered by a Polish court, I am ready for such a turn of events."

Maciej Kujawski, from the Prosecutor-General's Office in Poland, told RFE/RL in Warsaw on September 16 that the specifics of the charges against Zakayev were not at his disposal.

But he added: "We know that an international arrest warrant has been issued [for Zakayev]. This means that if he steps onto the territory of Poland, the police will detain him and bring him before a prosecutor."

Russia's 2002 warrant against Zakayev alleges that he was responsible for crimes committed during the 1990s in wars between Russian forces and Chechen separatists.

Russian authorities also complain that the two-day conference of Chechen exiles in Poland will stoke tensions in the troubled Caucasus region.

Polish European parliamentary deputy Tadeusz Zwiefka, who accompanied Zakayev to the Regional Prosecutor's Office in Warsaw where he was being questioned, told RFE/RL he thinks the arrest warrant against Zakayev was politically motivated.

Zwiefka says Zakayev's planned appearance at an international forum organized by the World Chechen Congress was "very inconvenient" for Russia -- suggesting that Moscow is trying to silence international debate on problems in Chechnya or other Russian regions in the North Caucasus.

Major Figure

Zakayev is the former deputy prime minister and current prime minister of the unrecognized Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. He also had been the spokesman for Chechen separatist President Aslan Maskhadov, who was killed in a battle against Russian forces in 2005.

Moscow has fought two full-blown wars against separatists in Muslim-majority Chechnya since 1994 -- leaving the region devastated. Russia is now battling a radical Islamist-fueled insurgency in Chechnya and in Russia's neighboring Caucasus regions of Dagestan and Ingushetia.

During the early phases of the second war in 1999-2000, Zakayev commanded Maskhadov's presidential guard. He also was involved in negotiations with Russian representatives before and during those hostilities.

He left Chechnya in 2000 to seek treatment abroad for injuries.

He was arrested in Denmark in 2002 on a Russian extradition request but Copenhagen rejected Moscow's request.

Britain then detained Zakayev on that Russian extradition request when he flew into London from Denmark in late 2002, and launched extradition proceedings there. But the British courts eventually rejected Moscow's calls for his extradition and granted Zakayev political asylum in November 2003.

In that case, British Judge Timothy Workman ruled that the Russian extradition request was politically motivated and that Zakayev would be at risk of torture under an "unjust and oppressive" extradition.

Workman also said crimes in which Zakayev allegedly used armed force against Russian troops were not extraditable because they took place during an internal armed conflict.

Russian authorities have criticized that British ruling by accusing the court of double standards.

Complicated Issue

Zakayev has been able to travel abroad under an internationally recognized refugee passport. Since 2003, he has traveled to France, Germany, and Poland without being arrested.

Organizers of the World Chechen Congress planned to adopt a concept for ending the ongoing violence and securing the "de-occupation" of Chechnya. Invitees include four Nobel Peace Prize laureates, including Mikhail Gorbachev and Vaclav Havel, as well as representatives of international organizations and Russian political figures and intellectuals who have campaigned against the country's actions in Chechnya.

Zakayev has political asylum in the United Kingdom, a status which does not extend to other EU countries. But the British court's ruling -- and its reasons for granting political asylum to Zakayev -- could be taken into account by the Polish courts when they weigh whether to extradite him.

The consensus under international law is that no state has an obligation to surrender an alleged criminal to a foreign state because every country has legal authority over the people within its borders.

That has led to a complicated web of extradition treaties or agreements signed between countries. Typically, courts in the country where a suspect is detained rule on whether the suspect should be extradited to another country.

Extradition requests often are rejected if the accusations appear to be based on dubious evidence, if evidence is thought to have been obtained from torture, or if the courts think the defendant will not be granted a fair trial after extradition or will be subjected to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment.

based on RFE/RL and agency reports

XS
SM
MD
LG