On 19 July 2021, I wrote a communication to the Government of the Russian Federation jointly with the UN Expert on Violence against Women regarding the attack and detention of two woman human rights defenders during a raid of a women’s shelter.
Marem is a volunteer initiative group helping women from the North Caucasus region who face the threat of domestic and other gender-based violence or death. The group helps them to arrange evacuation, find temporary accommodation, pay for transport, and provides legal and psychological support.
Ms. Ekaterina Neroznikova is a woman human rights defender, coordinator and volunteer of Marem.
Ms. Maysarat Kilyaskhanova is a woman human rights defender and volunteer of Marem.
Ms. Svetlana Amirova (also known as Svetlana Anokhina) is a woman human rights defender and journalist. She is the co-founder of Marem and the editor-in-chief of Daptar, the online media outlet ocusing on women’s rights.
Marem ran a women’s shelter for gender-based violence survivors in Makhachkala, the Republic of Dagestan. The shelter was located in an apartment rented by woman human rights defender Ms. Ekaterina Neroznikova.
On 10 June 2021, women human rights defenders Ms. Maysarat Kilyaskhanova and Ms. Svetlana Amirova were in the shelter together with four domestic violence survivors. One of the survivors was an adult woman who had fled her home in the Chechen Republic because of domestic violence.
During the day, Ms. Svetlana Amirova noticed a group of unidentified men, allegedly from the Chechen Republic, near the shelter. She reached out to her contact at the press service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Dagestan and asked for protection measures. In the evening, a police officer contacted Ms. Svetlana Amirova to confirm that the police would guard the shelter and asked for permission to enter the shelter in order to protect them.
When Ms. Svetlana Amirova opened the door, a group of about 20 police officers and unidentified men, allegedly from the Chechen Republic, entered the shelter. Some of the men had guns and wore body armour. The police allegedly forced the Chechen woman, who was staying in the shelter, to return to her family without considering her at-risk situation as a victim of domestic violence.
The police officers detained Ms. Maysarat Kilyaskhanova and Ms. Svetlana Amirova. Upon their arrest, the police officers reportedly pushed and dragged them by their legs and arms down a stair and dropped them, all of which caused them extensive bruises. Ms. Svetlana Amirova reportedly suffered severe breathing difficulties while being dragged, due to a recent heart attack. As a result of this excessive use of force, an ambulance had to be called to assist her. The police officers also reportedly threatened Ms. Svetlana Amirova to leave her with the unknown men if she did not agree to go to the police station.
The police officers took Ms. Maysarat Kilyaskhanova and Ms. Svetlana Amirova to the Police Department in the Leninsky District of Makhachkala and accused them of “disobedience to a lawful order of a police officer” under Article 19.3 (1) of the Administrative Code. According to the accusations, they resisted arrest, grabbed the officers by their clothes, scratched and bit them. The police officers also tested them for alcohol and narcotics, as a form of pressure and an attempt meant to discredit them. On 11 June 2021, the Leninsky District Court of Makhachkala dropped the cases “in the absence of an offence event,” and both women human rights defenders were released.
The women human rights defenders filed two crime reports with the Investigation Department of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation for the Republic of Dagestan and the Investigation Department for the Leninsky District of Makhachkala. They alleged abuse of authority by the police officers and violation of their privacy. At the time this communication is sent, the status of the investigation is unclear.
On 12 June 2021, the Chechen Republic’s Minister for National Politics, External Relations, and Information stated in a public broadcast that “well-coordinated and professional efforts of police in the Chechen Republic and Dagestan had prevented an attempt to abduct” the Chechen woman by the “fifth column in Russia,” reportedly referring to Marem.
On 14 June 2021, the state television in the Chechen Republic aired an interview with the Chechen woman forced to return, where broadcasters declared that she “was used to strike a blow against the traditional values of the Chechen people”. The Chechen authorities claimed that the woman was “mentally unstable”, that no domestic violence took place and that she didn’t need any help. Thus, the authorities claimed that the women human rights defenders working with Marem deceived, abducted and held her in shelter.
In the communication we expressed concern at the reported physical attack and detention of the women human rights defenders, who appear to have been targeted for their legitimate human rights work, promoting and protecting women’s rights an protecting women and girls from gender-based violence. We also conveyed concerns for the chilling effect this might have on other human rights defenders in the Russian Federation working on gender-based violence, especially in the North Caucasus. Such intimidation may discourage them from exercising their rights for fear of retaliation or harassment.
This is a shorter version of the original communication.