Akhmad Kadyrov's move to support Russian forces paved the way for a new "hard" peace in Chechnya. (c) Bai Xueqi/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images. All rights reserved.
This article was originally published in Polish on Onet. We publish a translation here.
On the last day of August, Poland deported Azamat Baiduyev, a member of a family deeply involved in the struggle for Chechen independence. The next day in Chechnya, operatives of Ramzan Kadyrov’s regime detained him. Why did our country deport Baiduyev, knowing that, in the best case, his family history risked him facing torture in his homeland, and in the worst case, execution?
On the morning of 31 August, Polish Border Guard officers visited a detention centre in Przemyśl to collect Azamat Baiduyev. The officers put Baiduyev, 33, in a car and took him to Warsaw. In the car, it was unclear to Azamat what was happening — at first, he probably did not realise where he was being taken.
According to several sources, when Azamat realised that he was going to be deported to Chechnya, he tried to open his veins in the car. According to others, this happened at the airport. Wherever the attempted suicide took place, it is known that Azamat was taken to a hospital in central Warsaw, where his injuries were attended to.
That same day, Baiduyev was flown to Moscow. He then flew to Grozny, capital of Chechnya. Soon after, according to contacts of Akhmed Gisayev, head of the Human Rights Analysis Center, reported that “roughly a hundred people with weapons, portable radios and police vehicles” surrounded a house belonging to Baiduyev’s uncle.
According to witnesses, some of these men spoke Russian without a Chechen accent and had a Russian appearance, which indicates that the Russian FSB was involved in the operation alongside the Chechen Interior Ministry. Azamat was abducted by force. It is not known where he is currently located.
The Polish authorities must have been aware that they were deporting a man who would be immediately threatened with torture and death in Russia. In 2008, Azamat received subsidiary protection in Poland. The family required this kind of special protection because of Azamat’s father.
Ali Baiduyev, whose work today allows his family to barely make ends meet, is a serious figure in the struggle for Chechen independence. In the 1990s, Ali Baiduyev belonged to the personal protection team of Dzhokhar Dudayev, first president of independent Chechnya. As the First Chechen War went on, and Dudayev refused to submit to the Kremlin, he became number one on the list of Russian targets. He avoided assassination on at least two occasions in the 1990s.
As a bodyguard, Azamat's father was particularly fond of Dudayev. He was related to him, and blood ties are the strongest guarantee of trust in Chechnya. The Chechen president often hid in the Baiduyev family home.
Dzhokhar Dudayev. CC BY-SA 4.0 Dmitry Borko / Wikipedia. Some rights reserved.
After 1996, the hunt for Dudayev became a priority for the Russians. And on 21 April 1996, Dudayev received a phone call from a Russian politicians. What he didn’t know was that a reconnaissance plane was tracking the phone's satellite signal. A laser-guided rocket killed Dudayev a few minutes later.
Six months later, Russian armed forces occupied Grozny, ending the First Chechen War. In 1999, the Second Chechen War began, only to be lost later. In 2003, when Russia finally took control of Chechnya, Ali Baiduyev became an enemy of the new regime, and had to flee with the whole family.
The security services of Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya’s new leader, soon began the hunt for Chechens involved in the struggle for independence. In 2016, Kadyrov addressed Chechens living abroad with a clear message on social media: sooner or later, the regime would get to each of them. “One day, maybe in ten or five years, when you’re smarter or when your parents tell you to come home or when they chase you out of Europe, you will not have anywhere to go. And then I will settle with you for all your words.”
After a few years of wandering, the Baiduyev family arrived in Poland. Fighters against Russian aggression, the Chechens were well received in our country. Since 2007, Azamat had a tolerated stay in Poland, and in 2008 he received subsidiary protection, granted to persons who may be in danger even on Polish territory.
According to Azamat’s mother, he was still under threat from Russian and Chechen security services which had penetrated Poland: “I was afraid of their cars that came to the centre during the day and at night,” Makka Baiduyeva. “Our family took part in the fight for independence. Now, for this reason, they take revenge on us, persecute us, want to destroy us. I asked Azamat to go to a safe place.”
This safe place turned out to be Belgium. “My son requested residency in Belgium 13 times and 13 times he was refused, which in our opinion was based on the lack of sufficient information,” says Makka Baiduyeva.
In 2017, the Belgian police detained Azamat on the basis of reports from France about “his possible involvement in the preparation of terrorist attacks in Belgium.” Although, according to Radio Svoboda, this information was not confirmed, Belgium deported Baiduyev to Poland.
In 2008, Azamat Baiduyev received "subsidiary protection" from Poland. There were no charges against Baiduyev in Poland. However, in April he was placed in the closed deportation centre in Przemyśl. On 29 August 2018, the Office for Foreigners removed Azamat’s subsidiary protection.
This decision was issued by the Polish Ministry of the Interior and Administration at the request of the Internal Security Agency. When questioned by Onet about the reason, the Ministry of Interior and Administration answered that Minister Joachim Brudzinski “issued a decision on the obligation to return to the country of origin of a foreigner who posed a threat to public safety and order in our country. The decision was issued on the basis of Article 329a of the Act on Foreigners. This provision was introduced by the 2016 Anti-Terrorist Activities Act.”
In conversation with Onet, Azamat’s mother confirms that the family has not received any information about the reasons for his deportation. “Why did the Polish authorities not provide him with any evidence of a crime? Why was not he brought before the court in Poland and have his guilt proved? Let the Polish authorities prove him guilty and he will go to prison for up to 50 years to answer for his actions if he is guilty. Why did the Polish authorities send him back to Chechnya?” asks Makka Baiduyeva.
This final question is important because, according to Jacek Białas, a lawyer from the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, regardless of the fault of the individual, the case law of the European Court of Human Rights indicates that the decision to deport to a country where they are threatened with torture or death is a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, as well as the Polish Law on Foreigners.
“I did not find any in-depth analysis of the potential threat to this gentleman after deportation in the decision on expulsion,” adds Jacek Białas. “There is no history there, no indication of whether there is a risk of torture or not. We do not know if such analysis was ever carried out. In the light of international standards, which are also in force in Poland, a man can not be deported to face torture, even if he is terrorist and criminal.”
Another issue here is Baiduyev’s lack of access to evidence of the alleged crime. Azamat Baiduyev thus becomes the latest in a growing group of people expelled from Poland on the basis of secret materials. The most prominent instance of this kind of deportation involves Ludmiła Kozłowska, the head of the Open Dialog Foundation who was deported from Poland in August.
Białas has no doubt that Polish law does not meet the requirements of European Union law in this matter. “It follows from the case law of the European Union Court of Justice that a foreign national who is subject to proceedings on the basis of secret evidence should be informed about the essential reasons which motivate the decision and receive a summary of this evidence. They are thus given a chance to respond to the charges. Polish national law does not offer this opportunity.”
The Polish Commissioner for Citizens' Rights contacted Mariusz Błaszczak, Poland’s Minister of Interior and Administration, regarding this situation in August 2016. To no effect.
In the decision to deprive Azamat Baiduyev of international protection, Dr Andrzej Karpiak, the director of the department of refugee proceedings at Poland’s Office for Foreigners, refers to “a definite improvement in the general security situation in Chechnya in recent years”.
Karpiak’s opinion radically contrasts with the latest OSCE document on Chechnya. On the day before Azamat was deported, 15 OSCE countries implemented the so-called “Vienna Mechanism”, expressing “deep concern over serious violations and violations of human rights in Chechnya”. Listing measures taken by the Chechen authorities against citizens, the document mentions “harassment and persecution, arbitrary or unlawful arrest or detention, torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings.” Under the Vienna Mechanism, the OSCE has requested explanations from the Russian Federation regarding a number of abuses in the country.
Indeed, experts confirm the deteriorating human rights situation in Chechnya. “The conflict in Chechnya is intensifying,” says Ahmed Gisayev from the Human Rights Analysis Center. “Many people have been kidnapped and lost, completely disappeared. Criminal cases are made against others. For example, in January 2017, Russian authorities seized 200 civilians as hostages, of whom 27 were shot dead. Russian state terror has suppressed Chechnya and the entire North Caucasus. And all this in recent years.”
“In Chechnya, even activists and human rights defenders are the object of fabricated accusations against which the world is powerless,” says Maria Książak, co-founder of the Polish Center for the Rehabilitation of Torture Victims and expert in the National Prevention Mechanism of Torture. “Oyub Titiyev, the director of Memorial’s Chechnya branch, has been imprisoned on drugs charges for nine months. Earlier, Ruslan Kutayev was sentenced to three years and 10 months in a similarly fabricated drug accusation. Despite the Chechen president’s ban, he dared to commemorate the 1944 Chechen deportation. Kutayev was subject to torture by electric shock, his ribs were broken. I think that only the publicity in this case has led to Azamat being found successfully in custody in Urus Martan.”
In 2014, Ruslan Kutayev was sentenced to four years in prison on drugs charges. Source: Youtube.Anti-government blogger Tumso Abdurakhmanov has also experienced first-hand the dramatic situation in Chechnya today. He is currently hiding in Poland from people connected to Ramzan Kadyrov. “I would rather be killed in Poland by a killer paid by Kadyrov than wind up in their hands,” he says. “In one of the reports of Human Rights Watch there is a statement of a Chechen woman: ‘There used to be war, but there was no fear. Now there is no war, but there is fear.’ The regime’s people bring the body of a dead child to the family and make them bury it. The family buries the body and says nothing to anyone. This is what it’s like in Chechnya today.”
When Onet asked Poland’s Office for Foreigners what exactly motivated the statement concerning the “general improvement of the security situation in Chechnya”, spokesman Jakub Dudziak replied: “As for the situation in Chechnya, it should be remembered that the foreigner was covered by temporary protection in the form of consent for tolerated stay, which was issued only in connection with the ongoing armed conflict in Chechnya at that time — currently this premise does not exist. A foreigner was not covered by international protection in connection with, for example, the threat of persecution.”
Maria Książak believes that this response proves that the Office for Foreigners spokesman have no knowledge about the actual situation in Chechnya. “If anyone should be aware of the current situation in the Caucasus and threats to individual foreigners who were covered by the refugee procedure or international protection in Poland, it is the Department of Refugee Proceedings of the Office for Foreigners, whose director is Mr Karpiak. It’s his name on the decision depriving Azamat of protection. An office paid from taxpayer money should serve the persecuted and not act against them. Denying the facts, which include the persecution and torture happening in Chechnya today, does not change the situation in the Caucasus, it is only a manifestation of incompetence.”
We also sent several questions to the Polish Ministry of Interior and Administration: Did the Ministry of Interior and Administration know that Baiduyev was persecuted by the Russian authorities, who suspected him of participating in the Chechen resistance movement, as well as by the Chechen authorities? Did the Ministry of Interior and Administration know that Baiduyev’s life is in danger in Russia and Chechnya? How does the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Administration view the kidnapping or arrest of Baiduyev by Chechen security services the day after the deportation?
We have not received any answers from the ministry.
Although it has already been known for several days that Azamat tried to open his veins when he learned of the coming deportation to Chechnya, Jakub Dudziak, spokesperson of Poland’s Office for Foreigners, suggested in an email to Onet on 10 September that Azamat was not afraid of returning to Chechnya — moreover, he wanted to return to the country.
“The foreigner has a biometric foreign passport issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation,” Dudziak wrote. “If the foreigner decided to contact the Russian authorities knowing that his personal data will be subject to thorough verification after submitting the application, it means that he was not afraid of the authorities of the country of origin and decided to return to its protection.”
“This is a quote from the decision that revoked Azamat’s protection,” explains Maria Książak. “It seems that Azamat applied for a new passport at the Russian embassy. If a person who has protection or a tolerated stay in a given country and wants to travel to another country, he must have another travel document, that is, a current foreign passport. Perhaps Azamat wanted to visit his two children who had stayed behind in Belgium. This does not mean, however, that there was no threat to him in the Caucasus.”
Onet also asked the Ministry of Interior and Administration whether the ministry had obtained security guarantees from the Russian side for the expelled Azamat Baiduyev. We did not get the answer to this question either.
Akhmet Gisayev, who specialises in these issues, explains: “This is a common practice for deported political refugees. Otherwise, I do not understand how Poland could deport Azamat Baiduyev. International law establishes the direct responsibility of the state that deports a person threatened by torture or other degrading treatment. I also know that the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Poland and the domestic courts had enough evidence that Azamat Baiduyev was in danger of torture.”
If the Polish authorities did not ask Russia to guarantee the security of Azamat Baiduyev, this is a serious charge in light of international law. If they did, it shows the kind of importance Russia attaches to these guarantees.
When human rights activists and the media began to disseminate information about Baiduyev’s kidnapping in Chechnya, the Chechen Interior Ministry stated that Azamat had not been abducted but detained in connection with a terrorism investigation. This is how we found out that he is still alive.
Apparently, Azamat pleaded guilty to terrorism offences while in detention. “I am not surprised that Azamat pleaded guilty before anybody knew where he was or on which grounds he was being kept there,” Maria Książak comments. “It is hard to believe that this confession was honest and not preceded by torture, blackmail, threats.” Baiduyev is now located in a state prison in Grozny.
On 14 September, when I finished writing this article, the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights filed a formal complaint with the European Commission regarding the expulsion of foreigners from Poland on the basis of secret materials. One of the things the complaint referred to was the case of Azamat Baiduyev.
“My husband’s brother and his sister met him,” Makka Baiduyeva says “They brought a lawyer with them, but the authorities said that this lawyer is from the family, so they will not talk to him. A lawyer from the office was assigned to Azamat instead.”
“We want to assert our rights,” Makka Baiduyeva declares. “Poland gave us shelter, a permanent residence card. We were hoping for a bright future, we wanted to a good life for our children, take them to the first day of school. All this seemed to be in vain. Who will take care of Azamat’s eight children now? Who will care for them, take them to school, provide for them? What shall we do? Go back to Russia, Chechnya? We do not have anything to do here anymore. Poland deported him.”