Public Verdict Foundation staff detained in Cherkessk

posted 13 Jun 2016, 05:02 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 13 Jun 2016, 05:05 ]
7 June 2016

Source: (info
On 5 June 2016 Asmik Novikova, who heads the research programme at the Public Verdict Foundation, and Ksenia Gagai, a documentary film producer who works as a volunteer at the Foundation, were detained by armed police and escorted to the Centre for Combating Extremism [Centre E] of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Cherkessk.

Their detention was made on the basis of a briefing put out by the Investigative Committee to search for someone of ‘an extremist appearance’ similar to Novikova and Gagai. The head and deputy head of Centre E, an officer from the criminal investigation department, and an investigator from the Investigative Committee came to question the detainees.

Novikova and Gagai had come to Cherkessk to make a documentary film about Ruslan Rakhaev. On their first day, filming took place at Rakhaev’s home, and of the streets, parks, of the police station’s main building where the police investigators had illegally held Dakhir Dzhankezov, responsibility for whose death the Investigative Committee has repeatedly place on Rakhaev. The plan was to spend the following day filming in Pyatigorsk (in Stavropol region) and do a video-interview with a medical expert, Evgeny Nikolaev. On their way there Novikova and Gagai continued to film the town, including the building of the Investigative Committee of the Karachaevo-Cherkessk republic.

Already outside of Cherkessk, and on their way to Pyatigorsk, their taxi driver received a call from his manager that the police had been on the phone with questions about the passengers who had filmed the Investigative Committee building. Then came a call from the police, asking Novikova and Gagai to return to the town because allegedly the police needed to establish their identity and to clarify why they had been filming the building.

The police were not satisfied with the explanation which Asmik Novikova gave over the phone. She and Gagai decided that they should return to Cherkessk because there was every reason to believe that, given the ‘briefing’ that the police had received about their identities, they would be prevented from leaving the republic.

It soon became clear that the police were taking the matter very seriously indeed. As they approached Cherkessk, Novikova and Gagai were met by several police cars and armed men in combat uniform. They surrounded the taxi, opened the boot, after which, holding his automatic at the ready, a police officer opened the door of the taxi. A member of the police force told the taxi to follow the police. In answer to the question as to the grounds for their detention, the police officer smiled guiltily and said that that he knew nothing – he simply had received the ‘briefing.’

They were accompanied to the police station by the police cars. In the courtyard they were met by about ten (!) police officers. The women were asked to leave their things in the car, and put the contents of their pockets on the hood. The police wanted to search their handbags but when Asmik Novikova asked whether they would prepare a protocol, detailing the search, they decided against and asked the women to show them the content of their handbags, as they did.

Their passports were requested and inspected. One might have expected that after checking the passports the whole business of ‘detaining extremists’ would have been over and done with. But the investigators from Centre E transferred the detainees to their car and took them to the Republican Centre E building, at present under repair. On the way, Novikova and Gagai were asked ‘Do they pray?’, and, further, it was suggested they had perhaps been given ‘not the proper briefing.’ The officers said that they would take a statement from the detainees, and that would be the end of the matter.

The man who, at Asmik Novikova’s request, introduced himself as the deputy head of Centre E, began in a very informal manner to ask, ‘Why were you filming?’ However, without waiting for an answer, he went on to suggest that it was related to the forthcoming visit of the Presidential Human Rights Council. The deputy head spoke rapidly and not very coherently, referring to the ‘colour revolutions’, the dangerous situation in the North Caucasus, and the need to be polite when dealing with detainees.

Novikova and Galai were put in separate rooms and the questioning got underway. Now that it was known that the documentary film was about Ruslan Rakhaev, the question why they were filming the building did not arise. The officers were polite and сautious. During the questioning, which lasted about two hours, officers and heads of different law-enforcement agencies, who had been put on the alert, made appearances in turn. The official from the Investigative Committee ran in for five minutes and vanished, whereas the head of Centre E thought it important to explain, loudly, how one should make documentary films, whose permission it was necessary to obtain, how it was necessary to take into account the specific nature of the North Caucasus, whom one should interview, and so on.

After spending three hours in Centre E, the women were released, and a protocol of their questioning was drawn up. There was no mention of charges relating to any administrative infringements being brought.

Yesterday Ksenia Gagai received a phone call from Centre E with a request to send photographs because it was necessary to confirm that the women were not wearing the hijab. It seems that there was a problem with the videocamera on its building, and the Investigative Committee is continuing to claim that those filming ‘looked like terrorists’.

The Public Verdict Foundation considers the detention of its staff members unjustified, and intends to submit a formal complaint to the law enforcement agencies with a request to provide an explanation for their detention, and also to request that the actions of the officials of the Investigative Committee who sent the ‘briefing’ and of the officials from the republic’s Ministry of Internal Affairs be investigated.

Translated by Mary McAuley