Belarusian authorities have sent a man who is wanted in Chechnya back to Russia despite desperate pleas from his family and warnings from human rights activists that he could be tortured or killed by Chechen law-enforcement authorities.
The Chechnya branch of the Russian Interior Ministry said on June 9 that Murad Amriyev was being escorted to the region by security forces for questioning in connection with a false-documents allegation that his lawyers and relatives say is a farce.
Amriyev, a former mixed martial arts champion from Chechnya who says he was tortured by police there in 2013, had fled to Belarus on June 7 after evading Chechen police who were trying to take him into custody following his detention in western Russia's Bryansk region earlier this week.
A lawyer for Amriyev, Hanna Paulyuk, told RFE/RL late on June 8 that police in the Belarusian town of Dobrush, where he was detained shortly after crossing from Russia, had informed her that he had been sent to Russia.
An RFE/RL correspondent saw five vehicles with tinted windows leave the police headquarters in Dobrush and drive away toward the Russian border.
Amriyev's return to Chechnya would deepen concerns about the reach and methods of the region's Kremlin-backed strongman leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, who rights activists say has sent forces under his control to locations across Russia and abroad to arrest or attack foes and critics they say have been falsely accused of crimes.
It would also lead to criticism of the Belarusian government and redouble questions about Russian President Vladimir Putin's support for Kadyrov, who critics say has created a climate of fear and impunity over a decade in power in the region in southern Russia.
"The destiny of an innocent man is being crushed while all of Russia is watching," Amriyev's sister Madina said in a video message entreating Russian authorities to ensure his safety.
"We beg you, please help us, we do not know what to do," she said, sitting beside their mother in the video.
Amriyev told the Russian-based Committee for the Prevention of Torture in 2013 that he had been kidnapped by police in Chechnya who tortured him for two days, hanging him in handcuffs and applying electric shocks to his body.
He said at the time that the aim of the police was to force his older brother to return to Russia from Germany, where he had lived for years. A high-ranking Chechen police official claimed that Amriyev's brother was involved in an alleged plot to kill him.
'Wholly Bogus Charges'
After Amriyev was released, he fled to Ukraine. However, he remains a Russian citizen and had returned to collect papers needed to prolong his visa in a foreign country when he was pulled off a train in the Bryansk region while on his way to Moscow on June 4.
Chechen law-enforcement officials were waiting when he was released from custody in Bryansk on June 6, but he jumped into a car and sped off, later crossing into Belarus.
The Committee for the Prevention of Torture has warned that he could face abuse, torture, or even death if he is returned to Chechnya, where he is wanted on suspicion of using forged documents.
"The Russian authorities must immediately release Chechen torture survivor Murad Amriyev, and under no circumstances place his life at further risk by handing him over to the Chechen authorities," Amnesty International said on June 9.
Freedom House had also urged Belarus not to hand Amriyev over to Russia.
"The government of Belarus should recognize that Chechnya’s request to extradite Amriyev is based on wholly bogus charges of forgery, and that he risks being murdered," Robert Herman, vice president for international programs at Freedom House, said in a June 8 statement.
In her video message, Amriyev's sister pleaded with the federal Russian authorities to intervene, saying relatives "are asking for the justice that is guaranteed to us by the constitution."
"We are urging Russia's Interior Ministry to sort out what looks complicated but in fact is a simple case....A group of men armed to the teeth men has been chasing an innocent man," she said.
She told Russian television channel Dozhd that his relatives have left Chechnya, fearing for their safety.
Family members have not received threats but have left Chechnya "just in case," she said.
Rights activists say that Kadyrov, who was appointed to head Chechnya by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2007, rules through repressive measures and has created a climate of impunity for security forces in the province in the North Caucasus.
They claim that he bears responsibility for abuses including kidnappings, disappearances, torture, and killings of political opponents.
Kremlin critics contend that Putin has given Kadyrov free rein because he relies on him to keep a lid on separatism and insurgent violence after two devastating post-Soviet wars in the region.