The Head of Vayfond Chechen Human Rights Association Mansur Sadulaev recently challenged a fellow countryman, a mixed martial arts fighter Mairbek Taisumov, who lives in Austria. He explained such a choice of the opponent by the political component of the athlete’s activity – he often published photoes with the Head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov, supports him.
According to Sadulaev, his goal is even more ambitious: he wanted to draw the attention of his countrymen to the duplicity of refugees from Chechnya, who condemn Kadyrov’s policy in a narrow circle, but honor him and his supporters publicly.
The organization run by Sadulaev helps refugees from Chechnya, collects information about people allegedly abducted by Kadyrov, and provides legal support to the Chechens who are under the threat of deportation from European countries at the request of Russia.
Caucasus.Realities (Кавказ.Реалии) news portal spoke with Sadulaev about why Taisumov did not accept the challenge, what threatens the Chechens of Europe who openly criticize the authorities of the republic, and what could protect them.
“Taisumov refused to enter the ring with you, but will you insist on the fight taking place?”
“I cannot force Mairbek Taisumov if he refuses, although he did not give an official refusal. There is a recording of his words on the Internet where he says he does not know who I am and refuses to fight. But I am sure he knows perfectly who I am. Of course, this fight would be a political combat, not just a sports one. Because Taisumov loudly praises Kadyrov, thanks him for gifts, and congratulates him on his birthday. It means that he does not have any problems to go out to fight under the flag of this person.
And he refused, I think, because in any case, whether I lose the fight or win, in his opinion, I can use it as an source for hype or self-promotion. Perhaps Kadyrov also gave the athlete such a setup to respond to me in a way that, roughly speaking, does not help me to promote myself. This live event is not advantageous for them in any case. But I hoped that Kadyrov would instruct the wrestler to agree to the challenge. I wanted to show that strength is not just in the muscles or experience. It is in the truth. And the truth wins. That is what I wanted to convey first of all.”
“And if he had agreed? This is a certain risk.”
“I have been doing sports for years. Of course, this is not fights without rules. My principles, traditions and religion do not allow me to perform in fights without rules. I cannot afford to get naked and go out in public. I do Kyokushin karate. In 2013 and 2014, I won first places in the Austrian open Championships. So I am not a beginner in fights, I know what I am dealing with and what risks there are.”
“Who else from pro-Kadyrov athletes in Europe can you name?”
“Taisumov is the most famous of those living in Europe. There is another one, Khamzat Chimaev. It is an interesting story of him. He lives in Sweden and performs under the Swedish flag. Posts numerous photos with different Kadyrovites, for example, a photo with a Patriot (the nickname of Abuzayd Vismuradov, Deputy Speaker of the Chechen Parliament – ed.), who is suspected of tortures and murders. He poses in clothes with the inscription “Akhmat” and in the club “Akhmat”.
Thus, this person positions himself as one of Kadyrovites and does not hide it. At the same time, as far as I know, earlier, the same Chimaev swore fealty to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the [extremist group] ISIL, when this organization was actively fighting in Syria. Chimaev accused of disbelief, called non-Muslims those who did not swear an oath. And this radical person suddenly becomes one of the Kadyrovites. And here it is not clear at all for what purpose he swore, whether he was for ISIL and how this is combined with his love for Kadyrov.”
“How large is the influence of sports stars on Chechens?”
“The influence of these athletes on the Chechens, first of all, on the youth, is huge. Our boys are very fond of fights without rules. And sportsmen, as famous people, have a lot of fans. This fame is used by Kadyrov for lucrative political purposes.
If Taisumov puts a photo with him on Instagram and praises him, then thousands of fans who adore Taisumov see the praises and believe them. Without even thinking about who Kadyrov is, they will read, believe their favorite and will also think well of him. They will not pay attention to the crimes, human rights violations, contract killings associated with Kadyrov and his entourage. They will not notice that he is a tyrant and dictator. This takes a back seat for the fans of these athletes. They are an effective lever of propaganda actively used by Kadyrov.
And any successful Chechen fighter and public figure who succeeds in Europe, gaining fame, faces attempts by Kadyrovites to drag him to their side. He is offered money, being hinted at and threatened, and they promise him problems if he tries to refuse. Unfortunately, they are good at getting the support of respected people. These are not harmless things, and by my challenge to Taisumov I wanted to draw the attention of my countrymen to this, so that they would think about it.”
“Can the athletes in Europe really act secretly in the interests of Kadyrov? Why are they not being prosecuted by the authorities in Europe?”
“The authorities do not prosecute them, because they do not violate the laws of European countries. They do not commit crimes. Their task is not to kill Kadyrov’s opponents (he already has a lot of real killers), but to muffle their voices with their own popularity and reputation. This is not punishable in Europe.”
“How did the mood change in the European diasporas of Chechens after the murder Mamikhan Umarov, known as Anzor from Vienna? Do people believe that the murder will be solved?”
“After the murder of Anzor, Chechens are waiting for what the Austrian authorities will do, but do not fully believe in the transparency of the investigation. We all hope that the Austrian authorities will respond correctly to this crime.
However, based on experience, the actions of the authorities of other European countries where such murders were committed, this reaction is quite weak. Let’s remember the murder of Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, which took place in Berlin last year. We can see that Germany is not very interested in responding to Russia seriously, although it turned out that the killers came exactly from there and the involvement of the Russian authorities in the murder was proved. Effective measures have not been taken to prevent such crimes. The investigation has been going on for a long time, the process has been prolonged. We understand that the German authorities do not benefit from a scandal, they do not want to spoil relations with Russia because of a Chechen refugee. Because of such stories, Chechens doubt that Austria will be determined to seriously oppose such killings. Although, we really hope for it.”
“Will there be new voices of bloggers against Kadyrov?”
“The refugees are scared, but not to the extent that they stopped telling the truth about Kadyrovites. I think that by killing bloggers here, Kadyrovites got the opposite effect. People began to engage in this activity even more. More and more of our countrymen understand that even harmless at first glance blogging activity bothers Kadyrov greatly. When this became obvious, bloggers from our environment became more active. There are new faces and names of those who speak about the crimes and lawlessness committed by the leadership of the Chechen Republic.”
“What can protect the Chechens of Europe from new attacks by killers?”
“Serious retaliatory steps within the framework of international legislation after the murder of Chechens in Europe can protect us. The reaction should be such that the Russian authorities will not benefit from a repeat of these attacks. In this case, the Kremlin would very quickly calm down Kadyrov. One call from the Kremlin to him would have been enough. And after that, not a single one of the Kadyrovites, I am sure, would touch anyone here. Kadyrov’s enemies would stop dying in European cities.
In the meantime, the Russian authorities have continued in the same spirit for many years. We remember the killings of opposition-minded Chechens in Turkey. There are no significant consequences for Russia, and it does not suffer any damage from these deaths.
If the migration authorities, in cooperation with the police, began to check the refugees more carefully, this would greatly reduce the risks. If they began to expel those who praise Kadyrov and those who sympathize with Kadyrov. Then the number of potential killers would decrease and it would be more difficult to find the perpetrators of new crimes.”
“How do you assess the propaganda war declared by the Head of Chechnya against network critics? Is it related to the closure of borders under the pretext of the lockdown?”
“Perhaps, Kadyrov is really afraid of the second wave of coronavirus and therefore keeps the borders closed. Another thing is that with closed borders, his methods contribute to the spread of the disease within the region. During the lockdown, people were not even allowed to go to the store, and they were beaten for leaving without a permission pass. And instead of explaining and urging them to return home, they detained, took them to the police station, and locked several dozen people in one cell. That’s where people met the coronavirus. The next day, they were taken out and lined up into a single rank, something was explained, shown, and they were filmed.
Kadyrov’s expositary fight against the pandemic is a complete profanation. In fact, we have seen a rally of Chechen doctors who were not given the necessary protective equipment. We have heard that doctors who are dissatisfied with the lack of protective suits are dismissed. There are no real actions to prevent coronavirus.”
“Due to the lockdown, European countries suspended deportations of Chechens in the spring. In this regard, has the nature of requests to you for protection of rights changed?”
“During the lockdown, the people who applied to us really were not deported or extradited, but not because of the closed borders, it happened so because their processes are not over yet, the refugees are fighting within the framework of international law, defending their intention to stay in Europe in the courts. They prove that they are in danger in their homeland. But I can talk only about the cases known to us.
I heard that the Chechens who arrived from Georgia were deported. They are also refugees, persecuted by the Russian authorities. But the EU authorities believe that Georgia is a safe country for refugees. So we did not see any major changes due to the pandemic. People were under the threat of expulsion from Europe before, and now the situation is the same. There are denials of asylum and new requests from Russia for the extradition of refugees. It happens that it is postponed for a certain period.”
Let us note that in February, Sadulaev spoke in a video blog about racial and religious discrimination against Chechen refugees in Europe. The statements were made against the background of the detention of five Chechens in Germany in January. They were allegedly suspected of preparing a terrorist attack, but the men were immediately released.
“Why is it not said anywhere that the detainees are Russian Islamists or Russian terrorists? Why is the nationality highlighted, as if the documents of Chechen refugees say that they are from Chechenya, and not from the Russian Federation?” – the human rights defender was indignant.
Sadulaev also repeatedly said that among the Chechens living in Europe there are a lot of people acting as spies. Therefore, one of the Fund’s activities is to expose “Euro-Kadyrovites”, “Kadyrov’s supporters, flunkies, sycophants and snitches, who have settled in Europe under the guise of refugees due to misunderstanding and due to gaps in international legislation.”
Translated by Vayfond