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Ingush Human Rights Activist Unfazed By Reports Death Squad Closing In On Him

Ingush human rights activist Magomed Mutsolgov (file photo)
Ingush human rights activist Magomed Mutsolgov (file photo)
Magomed Mutsolgov, head of the Mashr human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO), which celebrated its ninth anniversary on April 14, has affirmed that he has no intention of either abandoning his human rights activities or modifying his way of life in response to a recent blog post claiming that Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) has dispatched a hit squad to Ingushetia with orders to kill him. Mutsolgov explained that "like any believer, I understand that my fate is in the hands of the Almighty and that I shan't die 'before my time is up.'"

While admitting that he takes the blog post seriously and will be "a bit more careful," Mutsolgov said that "I'm not some oligarch to spend money on bodyguards." He further pointed out that since the republic is already "stuffed" with servicemen and security personnel, there is no need for a special hit squad, all the more so as "one trained sniper is quite enough" to do the job.

More than most, Mutsolgov, 40, is aware of the risks he faces. A stern and imposing figure, he trained as a lawyer before going into business. He became involved in human rights issues after his younger brother Bashir was abducted in broad daylight in their home town of Karabulak in 2003 by armed masked men whom Mutsolgov subsequently succeeded in identifying as FSB and federal Interior Ministry personnel. Bashir was taken to the Russian army base at Khankala near Grozny, after which he disappeared without trace.

In an interview first published in the journal "Dosh," Mutsolgov recalled that when he was seeking help in tracing his brother, he went to the office in Nazran of the human rights watchdog Memorial where he was confronted with an entire wall covered with photographs and lists of 1,927 Chechens who disappeared during the fighting of 1999-2000. He decided on the spot, he said, to do all in his power to prevent the same thing happening on such a scale in Ingushetia.

Respected In Russia And Abroad

To that end, Mutsolgov founded Mashr in April 2005 together with relatives of other men who had disappeared without trace after being detained by police or security personnel. Since then, he has survived several attempts to intimidate or kill him. His imminent assassination was rumored in October 2010 and January 2014.

Two of Mutsolgov's relatives were killed within the space of one week in 2008. Mashr co-founder Zurab Tsechoyev was himself abducted and brutally beaten in July 2008. (Tsechoyev quit Mashr in August 2012, accusing Mutsolgov of treating the organization as his private property.)

The primary focus of Mashr's activity is in providing legal advice and assistance free-of-charge to the population of Ingushetia; promoting the ideals of peace, humanity, and compassion, and human rights; and monitoring the human rights situation in Ingushetia and elsewhere in the North Caucasus.

In 2010 alone, its lawyers drafted some 2,500 appeals to the prosecutor's office and local courts and offered advice to more than 3,500 people (of a total population of less than half a million). Starting in 2006, it has compiled an annual overview of the human rights situation in Ingushetia; those reports can be found on its website.

From the outset, Mashr cooperated with other Russian human rights organizations, including the Moscow Helsinki Group. It receives funding from the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.

Mutsolgov's engagement as head of Mashr has earned him respect both within Russia and abroad. According to Chechen Committee of National Salvation chairman Ruslan Badalov, for whom Mutsolgov worked for 10 months before founding Mashr, "having surrounded himself with a team of professionals, Magomed raised the organization to the national and international level, he participates in all authoritative organizations, the Council of Europe, the OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe], and in a short period of time he has won very serious authority, respect and renown."

Problematic Relations

In 2012, Mutsolgov was one of six North Caucasus candidates shortlisted for a vacant position on Russian President Vladimir Putin's Human Rights Council.

Mutsolgov's relations with Republic of Ingushetia head Yunus-Bek Yevkurov are problematic. During his first months in office in late 2008-early 2009, Yevkurov met repeatedly with Mutsolgov and other human rights activists, and according to Mutsolgov was willing to listen to their criticism. In December 2008, Mutsolgov was named chairman of the Public Oversight Commission tasked with monitoring conditions in the republic's prisons.

Two years later, when Mutsolgov, along with a dozen other human rights activists, was presented with an award by the Moscow Helsinki Group, Valery Borshchev singled out how Mutsolgov had worked to secure the republican leadership's respect as one of his primary achievements.

Borshchev admitted that, although relations between the authorities and the human rights community "are not and cannot be harmonious, Mutsolgov nonetheless manages to organize dialogue and work toward concrete goals, which in itself counts for a great deal."

As time passed, however, and the security situation in Ingushetia deteriorated, Mutsolgov became ever more critical of perceived connivance between the security agencies and the North Caucasus insurgency.

He blamed Yevkurov for not intervening to prevent human rights violations by the "siloviki," (people linked to the security-services), arguing that "everything that happens here is on his conscience," and he is answerable for every single member of the population.

Yevkurov, for his part, has admitted that during the early years of his work, Mutsolgov "provided real help" to the republic's leadership, but has since "switched direction." Visiting a camp for displaced persons in Karabulak last summer, Yevkurov criticized Mutsolgov for going public with information about abductions and other human rights abuses that he said should have been passed instead to the Prosecutor's office. He also complained that Mutsolgov ignores the republic's human rights ombudsman.

Yevkurov further complained that the information contained in Mashr's annual reports has a negative effect on the younger generation and impels disadvantaged and disaffected young men to "head for the forest" and join the insurgency. He called for a criminal case to be opened against Mutsolgov.

Mutsolgov responded with an open letter to President Putin, Russian Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika, and Human Rights Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin complaining that, for two years, the Ingushetian authorities have repeatedly pressured and sought to discredit Mashr and its staff.

Mutsolgov stressed in that open letter that "as a matter of principle we do not engage in either political or religious activity." He categorically rejects Yevkurov's perception of Mashr -- as expatiated last week by acting Security Council secretary Albert Barakhoyev -- as part of the political opposition.

Mutsolgov explained that "we are not oppositionists, but human rights activists, and that is not one and the same thing. Oppositionists are people who aspire to come to power, but we don't aspire to come to power, we demand that government bureaucrats and employees of the various 'power' structures should respect the law and not use their official position to crack down on ordinary people."

As noted above, Mutsolgov remains committed to his human rights engagement despite the risks it entails. He told the "Dosh" periodical that "violence breeds violence. For that reason, as long as I live, I want as far as I can to help people, those who are in need, to fight using legal methods against...arbitrary and excessive violence. I am trying to win respect for myself and my people, and I hope to remain just and independent in my actions."

-- Liz Fuller

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.


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