LIVE UPDATES: A car bomb went off at the Nasyr-Kort mosque in Nazran where Khamzat Chumakov, an anti-extremist imam serves who has been persecuted for some years.
Welcome to our column, Russia Update, where we will be closely following day-to-day developments in Russia, including the Russian government’s foreign and domestic policies.
The previous issue is here.
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Yelena Milashina, a reporter for Novaya Gazeta who has long covered the North Caucasus and is now banned from Chechnya, wrote an analysis of the attack this week. Citing the reports from the Committee to Prevent Torture (KPP), the group whose members were in the van attacked, she noted that the Ingush police reacted swiftly both to get medical care and place the group under state protection. Meanwhile, the KPP’s office in Karabulak, Ingushetia, where it was moved after two attacks in Grozny, was attacked once again by vandals.
The group was shadowed before the attack March 9, and Milashina notes that the March 9 assault did not come out of the blue.
On February 19, three journalists were detained in the center of Grozny by Chechen police. Olga Pavlova of the online news site Kavpolit was able to shout out her name before she was stuffed into a black Priora. Eye-witnesses then informed the federal media. Kadyrov’s chief aide and speaker of parliament, Magomed Daudov intervened and the journalists were released. The unlawful detention was really more like a kidnapping, said Milashina. While no charges were made, their equipment and all their film footage was confiscated. Kavpolit frequently runs material critical of the governments of the North Caucasus.
“The participants in the press tour did not know anything about the danger hanging over the employees of the Committee itself. Not being experts of the region and not having full information about the conflict of the Chechen authorities with the human rights activists, the journalists could not evaluation their own sharply-growing risks.”
The result is less coverage of the alarming developments in Chechnya at a crucial time when Kadyrov will be either stepping down and be replaced or will be endorsed yet again by the Kremlin.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Translation: After the search and interrogation I am home. Details tomorrow. Meanwhile, a video from my “favorite” NTV which turned out to be at my home.
NTV, a state-run TV station which has become notorious for stalking the Russian opposition and running sensational propaganda programs about them, said Pelevina’s case was now shown to be unrelated to the Bolotnaya Square case under which dozens of activists have been jailed.
Pelevine also told RBC that her case was not related to Bolotnaya but that she is now being investigated under charges of possessing “espionage equipment” related to the fact that a year ago, investigators found a pen at her home that could be used to clandestinely record a conversation.
She said a criminal case has been opened up against her under Art. 138, “”unlawful trade in special technical means intended for clandestine receipt of information” related to the pen. The next interrogation is scheduled for March 15.
Yet NTV persisted in claiming that Pelevine had financed the May 6, 2012 anti-Putin demonstration supposedly using funds from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a US-funded organization that promotes democratic non-governmental groups around the world. NED has now been included on the list of “undesirable” organizations issued by the State Duma.
Citing a source in the investigation, RBC reported that authorities are investigating funds supposedly received from NED. In a statement received by RBC, Vladimir Markin, spokesman for the Investigative Committee said that Pelevine had supposedly used NED funds “to discredit the investigative agencies, the interior ministry agencies which were undertaking the investigation of cases of mass disorders on Bolotnaya Square on May 6, 2012.”
This suggests that even with considerable power to fabricate cases against the opposition, the Investigative Committee is pursuing another charge rather than one related to funding the march. Pelevine’s lawyer has said she is not charged in relationship to the Bolotnaya case but is only a suspect.
As activist Irena Nesterova explained on her Facebook page today:
“[Investigative Committee head Aleksandr] Bastrykin is ‘not completely stupid’ like his boss. Sometimes he displays remarkable ingenuity and resourcefulnes not peculiar to total idiots. Despairing of pinning the financing of the ‘riots’ on Bolotnaya in 2012 to PARNAS Federal Political Council member Natalia Pelevine, i.e. the papers regarding the May 6 Committee discovered in her first search were dated 2014, and the Committee itself was created after the jailing of the first ‘Bolotniki’ [Bolotnaya defendants] and as the ECHR [European Court of Human Rights] has established, there were no ‘riots’ on Bolotnaya, the main investigator of the country has kept his wits about him and has initiated a new search.”
Markin also added (translation by The Interpreter):
“I appeal to persons including comrades-at-arms who had the fortune to have formal or informal chats with Pelevine. Remember if during your meetings Pelevine had a somewhat unusually thick dark-colored pen, then you have become the subject of an unsanctioned recording which can be used against you in the future.”
The Kremlin has persistently attempted to portray as “violent riots” the large demonstration protesting against fraudulent elections that brought President Vladimir Putin to power and have attempted for nearly four years now to portray the march as funded by the US.
As we have reported, some 60 demonstrators were injured by riot police when officials unexpectedly blocked part of Bolotnaya Square off to marcher. Even this year, participants continue to be put on trial long after the fact. At the time, Russian human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin said “no riot occurred” and “innocent people were subjected to criminal sanctions.”
Now the authorities are trying to portray a fund to help families of those imprisoned from the demonstration as “helping color revolutions,” the constant target of Kremlin propaganda, referring to the Rose Revolution in Georgia in 2003, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004, the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan in 2005, the Green Revolution in Iran in 2009 and other citizens’ uprisings.
According to Markin, “foreign anti-Russian centers to fund mass disorders” were involved in “an attempt to implement a scenario for a ‘color revolution’ in Russia,” although nothing remotely resembling a Maidan-type action took place on May 12, 2012 as the marchers dispersed the same day and many were arrested long after that day.
NED no longer gives out information about its grantees in Russia, describing only the subject areas of grants due to the harassment of its grantees by the Russian government.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
The state-owned RIA Novosti news agency reports that at least two people have been wounded. One of them, the driver of another car passing by as the blast went off, is reported to be in a critical condition in hospital.
According to TASS, the blast went off at 13:40 Moscow time, as the imam of the Nasyr-Kort mosque, Khamzat Chumakov, was leaving after Friday prayers. Chumakov is reported to have been lightly wounded.
A source in local law enforcement told TASS that the blast had been caused by an explosive device equivalent to 5 kg of TNT.
This would not be the first assassination attempt on Chumakov. In September, 2010 the imam lost a leg when his car was blown up.
Chumakov has been subjected to harassment for several years by the local authorities:
Ingushetia Religious Rivalry: Guns, Clans, And Death Threats
Friday worship at a mosque in Ingushetia nearly descended into violence on June 5, when supporters and allied clans of the republican mufti and a charismatic rival cleric squared off before the latter was hustled off the premises.
Popular Ingushetian Imam Under Pressure
Over the past five years, Khamzat-haji Chumakov, imam of the Nasyr-Kort mosque on the outskirts of Nazran, has acquired cult status among young believers in Ingushetia thanks to his sermons denouncing bloodshed and Islamic extremism and exhorting his listeners to remain true to Ingush national values.
Moskovsky Komsomolets notes that among those who have threatened Chumakov is Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov.
Kadyrov has branded Chumakov a “shaytan” or devil and warned that were the imam to preach in Chechnya, his “head would roll.”
Chechen Republic Head Sides With Embattled Ingush Mufti
Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov has elevated his long-standing feud with his Ingush counterpart, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, to a new level by overtly siding with Ingushetia's mufti, Issa-hadji Khamkhoyev, whose resignation Yevkurov called for in late December.
The following headlines were taken from 7:40 na Perrone, Gazeta, RBC, Interfax, Currenttime.TV, Radio Svoboda, Novaya Gazeta .
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