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Abducted Journalist Believed Secret Wife Of Basayev

(Courtesy Photo) PRAGUE, August 25, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The family of Elina Ersenoyeva, a 26-year-old journalist abducted on August 17 in Grozny, has reported that she was secretly -- and perhaps involuntarily -- married to Shamil Basayev, the radical Chechen separatist who was killed by Russian forces in early July.

Ersenoyeva's disappearance has sparked calls from pressure groups like Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists for Russian and Chechen authorities to secure her release.

A journalist with the "Chechenskoye obshchestvo" ("Chechen Society") independent weekly, Ersenoyeva's most recent article focused on prison conditions in Grozny.

Multiple Motives?

Her reporting work, however, may not be behind her sudden abduction by armed men.

Press reports suggest Ersenoyeva had been married to Shamil Basayev -- the mastermind behind the Beslan school siege and, until his death, the most wanted man in Russia.

Aaron Rhodes is the executive director of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF), which has followed the Ersenoyeva case.

"It is clear now that she was married to Shamil Basayev. That's our understanding," Rhodes said. "The point about it is, though, it doesn't make any difference. This person isn't guilty of anything herself. This person doesn't deserve to be treated the way she's been treated. There's no justification for these violations of human rights on the basis of this marriage at all."

History of Harassment

In an open letter last week to Russian and Chechen prosecutors, Rhodes said Ersenoyeva had complained two days before her disappearance that she and her family were being harassed by local security forces loyal to pro-Moscow Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov.

The persecution, she said in a letter to the IHF, was tied to the fact that she had been married to an unnamed rebel fighter who had been killed "over a month ago."

Basayev was killed on July 9.

IHF says it learned on August 24 from its sources in Grozny that Ersenoyeva had in fact been married to Basayev.

Secret Marriage

Taisa Isayeva, who heads the Information Center of the Chechen Council of Nongovernmental Organizations (SNO), told RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service that she learned of the secret marriage from the journalist's family -- many of whom themselves learned the news only after her disappearance.
"There's no justification for these violations of human rights on the basis of this marriage at all." -- Aaron Rhodes, executive director of International Helsinki Federation

"It's true that she was married to Basayev. She married him a year ago," Isayeva said. "Russian and Chechen special forces the other day invited her relatives in for a discussion, and her relatives found out that Elina was his wife. And Elina's mother found out about it only after Basayev's death. Until then, Elina had managed to keep it a secret. No one -- not her mother, not even her colleagues, even suspected such a thing."

Details of the relationship are unclear.

Both Isayeva and IHF say they believe Ersenoyeva was forced into the marriage and that, in Isayeva's words, she was "being used" by Basayev.

Safety Fears

Ersenoyeva's family and supporters are now worried that her captors may subject her to abuse or a long prison term because of her marriage to Basayev.

Chechnya's Moscow-backed authorities say they have opened an investigation into the disappearance.

Ersenoyeva has not been seen since unidentified armed men in camouflage uniforms abducted her in broad daylight from central Grozny's main street.

The journalist had contacted her mother the night of her abduction, saying her kidnappers had promised to release her. Since then her family has received no word from her.

Shamil Basayev

Shamil Basayev

Shamil Basayev in September 1999 (epa)

MASTERMIND OF BUDYONNOVSK, BESLAN: Radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basayev waged a 15-year campaign against Russian control of Chechnya, including masterminding some of the most audacious terrorist acts the world has ever seen. Below are links to some of RFE/RL's reporting about Basayev in recent years.


The Rise Of Russia's 'Terrorist No. 1'

Is Basayev Planning To Torpedo The Russian-Chechen Power-Sharing Treaty?

Basayev Rejoins Chechen Rebel Government

Basayev Pledges More Attacks

Basayev Says He Helped Plan Nalchik Raid

Basayev Says Beslan Raid Prompted By FSB Sting

Moscow Says It Will Punish U.S. TV Network Over Basayev Interview

Budyonnovsk Marks 10th Anniversary Of Terrorist Raid

Look Back In Anger -- Ten Years Of War In Chechnya


An annotated timeline of the conflict.


RFE/RL's complete coverage of Russia's war-torn Republic of Chechnya.

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