The Founder of Chechen charitable association Vayfond Mansur Sadulaev and his wife, the Executive Director of the organization, Amina Sadulaeva, gave an interview to our portal some time ago.
On July 8, late in the evening, Mansur was detained by police at the Stockholm Airport, upon his arrival to Sweden. He was taken to the nearest police station. The next day, it became known that Sadulaev was detained at the request of Russia for extradition. The authorities of the Russian Federation impute to him calls for terrorism and extremism in videos posted on the network.
Yesterday, the Swedish Prosecutor’s Office refused to extradite Sadulaev, however, the Russian side does not give up attempts to achieve his expulsion.
Earlier, European countries extradited some of the refugees to Russian investigation authorities “under guarantees” of their rights. However, the European side can no longer either control implementation of the guarantees or affect course of the case after extradition.
Spouses Amina and Mansur Sadulaevy are the founders of Chechen charity and human rights organization VAYFOND, registered in Sweden and assisting their countrymen in distress.
How they got to Europe, who exactly they are helping to and what problems they face: the social activists told in the interview about all these issues.
– I was born and raised in Chechnya. I lived in the Naursky district, the village of Chernokozovo. I had been helping the rebels, fighters for independence. In 2009, I was detained and convicted for two years under article 208 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation – participation in an illegal armed formation (illegal armed group). The case was tried in the Urus-Martan Court. I was taken to serve my sentence in the Kirov region.
I got very sick. The prisoners were intentionally brought to the cells where people with tuberculosis were kept. Then they applied the “re-regime” – replaced penal colony-settlement with general regime colony. And I was sent back to Chernokozovo. There I spent the rest of the sentence. In the spring of 2011, I was released. But the claims of the authorities did not stop there. They began to call me for interrogation, tried to recruit me, demanded cooperation. When I tried to object, the security officials declared to me: “you were sentenced under the article for participation in the illegal armed groups, no one will even ask about you in the future, you are completely in our hands”. They threatened that they would put me in prison again, ascribe crimes, or would kill me as a terrorist, who was resisting. They told me to check in every two weeks, keep the phone on and come when they call.
I could not stand this situation and left for one of the Russian regions to visit relatives. And when I returned, the security forces broke into my apartment. At that moment I was not at home. I called the precinct police officer, saying that since he had my number, why they had broken in? I was told that one operative officer had arrived and just wanted to talk. I realized that if they wanted “just to talk” they could have call me in, they started something else. I did not take the risk and the next morning I left for Minvody by taxi, and from there by train to Ukraine. That time you could still get there with a Russian internal passport. I told the police that I was in Grozny with relatives, I would come tomorrow.
– Did this happen in 2011?
– Yes. About five months later I moved to Austria. Due to the stress, the deceases have worsened. In Europe, I was immediately taken to the hospital, I was in the hospital for six months and my treatment continued for another year and a half. IV therapy, medications. I came to Austria as a refugee. While the treatment was going on, the asylum process was withheld.
After that, I was denied international protection twice, without any justification. I had all the documents and evidence proving that I was being persecuted.
In 2015, on December 24, I took part in a rally, in Vienna, in support of Adam Dikaev persecuted by the Chechen authorities. I spoke out against Kadyrov, Putin, told about the crimes of the security forces against citizens in the republic.
After that, Ramzan Kadyrov said on television that he had given the task in Chechnya to find out who the relatives of the protesters were and hold them responsible for the activity of European Chechens. Austrian newspapers wrote about me, there was a big fuss.
After another couple of months, police came to me and said: “We have information that they want to kill you, so we will have to transfer you to a guarded apartment.”
An assassination of me was being prepared. Kadyrov ordered to kill me, but the police did not know who was the assassin. The investigation was underway, I had to be guarded. They actually transferred me to another apartment and put a 24-hour police guard.
– How did you feel being guarded all the time?
– It was very difficult for me. In fact, it was a house arrest. I was in the apartment all day and all night, and even if I went out into the courtyard, I had to warn those two with machine guns that were on duty downstairs and changed periodically. When I went down, they walked with me. Going to the store meant the same story. I had to warn in advance that I planned to go out and they arrived armed by several vehicles.
With this escort I was shopping. I could not really meet anyone and talk. I also had a ban on participation in mass events, I could not go to a public rally, because in this case the task of ensuring my security would be complicated.
Nevertheless, in the light of the threat to my life, I was finally granted political asylum. After all, not only I, but police sources as well said that I was in danger.
However, I did not get any information on the results of the police investigation. I spent six months locked up. After a while I moved to Sweden.
But even now it is undesirable for me to appear in Austria. In this country, there has already been a case of killing of a refugee from Chechnya, Israilov, that is why the authorities took the threat against me so seriously.
– How did you come up with the idea of establishing an organization?
– In 2016, Chechen refugees trying to break through to the European Union gathered in Brest, on the border of Belarus and Poland. However, the right-wing Polish government that came to power actually closed the border, refused to fulfill the country’s obligations to protect asylum seekers. The people who arrived in the summer were stuck in Brest for an indefinite period of time. There was a difficult situation. A part of the families, not having money for housing, were spending nights at the train station. Meanwhile, autumn came, it was cold. People complained that they were freezing and getting sick. This problem was well known to us in Europe. We felt sorry for the children. They are definitely not guilty of anything. We decided to raise funds, at least for clothes and food. On social networks there was a lot of information on the starving children already.
We announced fundraising, but we encountered a problem. It is impossible to accept donations to a personal account. If a large amount is being transferred, the bank raises questions, the account may be closed.
We decided to register the organization so that at the right moment, and they often arise, when someone is sick, asking for treatment, we could quickly start calling for help. In Chechen, “vay” is “our”. Thus the name VAYFOND was born – “our fond”. In the sense of “overall” for the Chechen people, since it was created primarily to solve the problems of the Chechens. We wanted each of our fellow countrymen in need to be able to apply only to someone’s well-known foundation, but also to feel some kind of “mutual aid fund”.
– Did your relatives who remained in Chechnya experience any harm?
– No, I have no close relatives there. My father was killed in the year 2000 in Grozny. Mother died of the disease four years later. I was the only child in the family, I have neither brothers nor sisters. There are cousin relatives, but I do not keep in touch with them, so that not to bring unnecessary problems to them. They do not really want to get in touch with me themselves after the start of my social activities.
– Did your father take part in hostilities?
– No, he did not. We lived in Grozny in the 99th, when the second Chechen war started. Until February, we sat in the basement, waited for the bombing to stop. In February, my mother and I went out of town to get to our relatives. The roads were still blocked, it was possible to move only on foot. The feds entered the city. Father remained to look after the house. And in April, we got to know that the father was killed. We were told that the feds threw grenades into the basement in which he was staying. At that time very few people remained, most of them left the place. There were 2-3 families on one street. In the morning people saw a smoke coming from our basement, it was already too late, no one was alive. Only bones and ashes were found.
– As soon as VAYFOND started working, did you immediately feel the increased attention of the Chechen authorities, the persecution?
– Before the appearance of the organization, I was conducting social activities, speaking, making video appeals, I was known as an opponent of Kadyrov’s power, the same attitude was developed towards the organization that we created.
– At what point did rendering assistance to the needy, a purely humanitarian mission of the organization, turn into support for political emigrants persecuted for political and religious reasons?
– We openly declared our position. A lot of organizations in Europe, even Chechen ones, are wary in contacting the politically persecuted persons. They avoid such people. And we did not avoid them. We declared that we are supporters of the independence of Chechnya, that we are against Ramzan Kadyrov and the order established by the Russian authorities. And it is precisely those who are persecuted by this regime who started contacting us.
Russia demanded the extradition of Aminat Akueva from Germany. And I was acquainted with her husband, Zelimkhan, he served a sentence with me in Chernokozovo. They were afraid of extradition of Aminat to Russia. And we began to provide legal assistance. We established contact with Zelimkhan’s German lawyer.
We also held a conference in Germany, where we told everyone about the goals of the organization. The event was visited by human rights activist Svetlana Gannushkina, she also tried to help Aminat, Zelimkhan and other refugees whom Russia was requesting to extradite. Moreover, there was Salam Vitaev, who was also persecuted by the Russian authorities in the Chechen Republic. Gradually, we became not only a charity but also a human rights organization.
– To what extent do you now feel the threat coming from the Chechen leadership?
– I am sure that there is a real danger for us, however, it is so constant in recent years that we have already learned not to pay attention, we are used to it. This has become the background. Of course, we realize the danger. Our acquaintances often write that we are being searched for, our address is being identified, they [Chechen authorities] are looking for a person who can reach us. But we know even without these messages that we are being hunted on. Nevertheless, we knew from the very beginning what consequences that would lead to.
– What is your specialization according to the education?
– Accountant. I even entered the law faculty, studied for a year, but did not manage to graduate. Then my mother died, I had to earn my living. I took an academic leave, deciding that I would continue later, but due to the circumstances, I did not have to continue. I worked on construction sites for a while.
– Under what circumstances would you return to Russia?
– … (pause) to Russia, or to Chechnya?
– The place, where you left from.
– Only if Chechnya does not have Russian troops and the Russian authorities in general.
– Do you think that this is possible soon?
– I admit that this may not be very soon. But we are determined to continue our activities and do everything that depends on us to bring the time for independence closer. We have no desire to just fight. I know well that war brings troubles and suffering. Being in Europe, we see a normal attitude towards human rights. And the way states treat their citizens. We strive for this justice, we want our state. Let it be small, but there are many examples in the world of how small states live quite well. And every country has difficulties. It is important not to let them try to break the backbone of our people.
– I will add about VAYFOND. In Europe, there was a lack of organization of just such a focus. We were simply overflown with requests, a huge stream of victims came to us. The human rights nature of our activities, plus our affiliation with supporters of Chechnya’s independence, has shaped our audience. We even re-registered the organization, specifying the nature of the activity. We supplemented the statute with new clauses.
Our work is dangerous, so many other social activists and specialists are afraid to cooperate with us. Indeed, this may cause problems for them. It is hard for us, but we insist on our own principles.
We are finding the right people for collaboration. It is not so important for us that this specialist has a good European education. It is more important for the person to be competent in matters related to the Caucasus. There are those who have deep knowledge of the laws, but we still need a person to be aware of our specific problems. Of course, we resort to the help of lawyers from different countries, depending on the location of the refugees. We also have lawyers in our staff, but they are more busy with advisory work and help in the preparation of documents.
Each European country has its own nuances, despite a general legislation in the field of human rights.
We find a lawyer who won the case in a similar situation and, moreover, is interested and sympathizes with the refugees, understands the situation and wants to help sincerely. But there are countries where little depends on the efforts of the defender. For example, Bosnia and Herzegovina, or Slovakia. Although the lawyer did a great job, Slovakia has extradited Aslan Yandiev – the Ingush national, who was being persecuted in Russia under the fabricated case. When the special services and politicians have already decided something among themselves, it is impossible to influence the matter.
In Poland, we also see no point in establishing contacts, there is now the same situation as in Bosnia and Slovakia. These are unstable countries, laws do not work. We know the situation of the Chechen blogger Tumso Abdurakhmanov. In his case, it is absolutely clear that he will be simply torn to pieces if he is deported. Even if they do not kill him, the authorities of Chechnya will do everything possible to get revenge, shut his mouth, and humiliate him.
Many people come to us from Poland. This is the first country of the European Union where refugees get to. But we came to the conclusion that spending energy and money is useless there. After all, it happens that one person needs several lawyers. One for INTERPOL cases, the second for extradition matters, someone else for asylum and the fourth defender from Russia, who in turn will conduct additional work. For one case it takes 10-15 thousand euro at least. Plus the translation of documents into different languages. We undertake only those cases in which we see a chance for success. Where we see no chances, we have to refuse. Naturally, the applicants do not understand this, they get offended because of this.
– How many employees does VAYFOND have?
– More than twenty people. They all work on a volunteer basis. We do not pay salaries, otherwise we would not have coped at all. Accordingly, our employees need to combine this activity with earning a living. However, we pay to freelance lawyers, translators, journalists.
We used to have three or four people, then it became five or six, now twenty. We are growing. Our goal is to grow to a level where we, in the political sphere, will be able to influence something, speak more effectively in defense of the people under our wardship. So far we are a small Chechen organization. It is necessary to achieve the authority at the international level.
– Someone complained at you to the police and tax authorities. How did this happen?
– It was done in Sweden and in Germany. We do not exactly know ourselves who does it. Muhammad Abdurakhmanov, our representative in Germany, was detained, interrogated, and searches were conducted at his home. The reason was a post on Facebook, but the police asked him about us, about how he is connected with us, who Mansur is. It seems that the record in the social network was only a pretext to detain Muhammad.
As for Sweden, we have never had any problems here either with tax authorities, or with the police, or with anyone else. We always conduct a constructive dialogue with local authorities, they behave very adequately. I like that they are not in a hurry to draw conclusions. The institutions are staffed by psychologists and other competent experts. They check any information carefully. Our activity is open and transparent, we are ready to show where and what for we send money to and who sends it to us. The financial police can see it anyway.
Someone wrote statements about us, tried to find our connection with various terrorist cells like ISIS. But we proved that this is nonsense. We oppose the terrorist ideology.
Sometimes we face provocations. For example, someone writes to us: “help me to go to Syria”. We understand that this comes from special services. Which normal person would write this? We operate under Swedish law. In addition, from the point of view of radical extremists and their supporters, we are far from Islam ourselves.
There was a case when a person who arrived in Brest to cross the border with Poland asked us for assistance. The man is allegedly a Chechen refugee. However, at the same time he was a supporter of Kadyrov. Such people appear sometimes. They are deceivers who come to Europe and cry with crocodile tears that they are oppressed. And then, having received an asylum, they can shout “Akhmat is force” and go home on leave. And the European authorities, who provide a positive decision to the asylum request, will perceive all refugees as potential Kadyrov supporters, benefit-eaters, who do not really need protection.
Because of these characters, the European refugee policy has tightened. Because of them, it is so difficult for us to prove again and again to the migration authorities that one or another of our clients really needs asylum. We present evidence, but we still cannot convince the authorities, because they have seen the opposite example.
– How do you make sure that the refugee is real?
– Without details, I will tell you that we have our own verification system. Sometimes we find living witnesses of a crime against our clients. Contact them. We check for ourselves, clarify each situation, in order to understand whether it is necessary to undertake. Although even if a person is guilty of what he is accused of, then according to human rights, he should not be extradited. After all, it is clearly known that in Russia his rights will not be respected. No one should be punished beyond the law. However, now we do not set the task to protect those who are really guilty. The situation with human rights in the world is such that the protection of such people immediately becomes a problem for those who protect them. Even lawyers are afraid to take on certain cases.
– Is your asylum check more precise than a police check?
– Now in different countries, the authorities have begun to turn to representatives of national communities in connection with the spread of terrorism. But the problems of refugees are of little interest to them. They have no goal to give the refugee a positive decision. I think that the task of a social worker sitting in the migration department, is, on the contrary, to deny asylum to a person. We offered not even cooperation, but our assistance in acquaintance with Caucasian specifics. But the migration authorities are not interested. They are ready to pay attention only to cases connected with the threat of terrorist attacks from radical Islamists.
The same Swedish police sees no danger from the Federal Security Service, which can also recruit agents and do anything to destabilize the situation in another country.
– Is it difficult to establish an organization in Sweden?
– Not difficult. It is difficult to “promote” it later. You must first send the statute to the tax office, wait for permission. Each country has its own procedure. If the statute does not violate the laws of the local state and the activity corresponds to it, then everything is in order. Every year you need to declare your activity. You need to be prepared to report to the state auditor at any time. He may come over to check after any complaint. Annually it is necessary to send a report to the tax office.
– Who do you have to fight more: the European bureaucracy and the system of denial of asylum, or the “pro-Russian” European officials, when they naively or for some other reason think that the rights of the expellee will be respected?
– Regarding Caucasians, oddly enough, many countries listen to reports from the Federal Security Service and put the person under surveillance (whom the Russian special services are persecuting). Interrogate his/her relatives, friends, acquaintances. We can do nothing about it.
We are open and ready to prove at any time that this is not so. But most of all we have to fight for them not to be extradited.
Europeans know everything themselves. International, not only human rights, but also political organizations repeatedly wrote reports about the massive violation of human rights by the Russian authorities, especially in Chechnya.
We always attach these reports to our letters when contacting any structures. The answer is in the following spirit, “yes, we know that there are violations, but in this particular case it is not so.”
When you see such a reason for the refusal of asylum from the migration authorities, you feel like laughing and crying at the same time. When they write that a refugee from Chechnya can get asylum in Russia, it causes laughter. We know the situation of Amriev, whom they reached even in Belarus. It turned out that even there Kadyrov’s supporters have their co-operation.
This is the most global problem. Everyone writes the same decision for denial.
– Did you personally leave Russia for political reasons?
– My views have always not coincided with the opinion of the majority and I was, living at home, against the policies of the authorities. Taking into account my political and religious views (I refer to the Salafis who are persecuted in Chechnya), and also, for the reason that I could not sit silently and not resist this regime, I believe that I would not be alive if I had not left Russia.
When this interview was being prepared for publication, Amina Sadulaeva announced threats by the special services to her relatives living in Russia.
Her relatives were interrogated about her location and other personal data. Also, security officials threatened to initiate a criminal case against Amina. The interlocutor believes that these events are directly related to her human rights activities.