Vanessa Redgrave on Chechnya

Michael Keaney michael.keaney at
Tue Nov 5 06:46:04 MST 2002

My friend faces torture

Vanessa Redgrave
Tuesday November 5, 2002
The Guardian

"Poor innocent Russia" - Anna Akhmatova's words from Requiem have been
tolling like a bell deep within me since last Thursday, when the Danish
police led me through the prison doors and up the iron flights of stairs to
see my friend, Akhmed Zakayev, the deputy prime minister of Chechnya. He had
been arrested at 2.17am the previous day by Danish police, on Russian
Interpol's request for extradition to Russia.

That evening, in the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, I introduced four
Russian women poets. One, Tatiana Voltskaya, works for Radio Liberty, the
only independent radio transmitting in Russia. All four connect their
development with Joseph Brodsky, Osip Mandelstamm and Anna Akhmatova.

Mr Zakayev is innocent of all terrorism, and the Russian authorities know
it. But if the Danish minister of justice - ignorant of the situation in
Russia - were to agree to extradition, Mr Zakayev would be sent back to
probable torture and death.

Amnesty International has just produced a report on the denial of justice in
the Russian Federation. There is widespread and increasing use of torture in
Russia. This grows alongside the mounting brutality of the Russian
government's war against the Chechen people.

Suspects in pre-trial detention all over Russia are subjected to "Slonik" -
a gas mask, or sometimes a plastic bag, is placed over the suspect's head,
the air supply is cut off, and sometimes tear gas is pumped into the mask or
bag. The victim loses consciousness or vomits. Many other forms of torture
are used to extract confessions, which under Russian law can be signed
without the presence of a lawyer, and are accepted by the courts. Such is
the horror that would be inflicted upon Mr Zakayev if he were extradited
from Denmark to the Russian Federation.

No people in the Russian Federation today have been so systematically
selected for torture and extrajudicial executions as the Chechens. On the
plains of Ingushetia, a small country where the Russian government inflicted
ethnic cleansing on the Prigorodny district in 1992, stands a monument to
the nationalities who suffered from the Stalinist repressions. I saw there a
photograph of President Aslan Maskhadov of Chechnya, and President Ruslan
Aushev of Ingushetia taken at its opening ceremony. Will the Russian
military forces now surrounding the refugee camps in Ingushetia destroy this
tower, as they have destroyed the famous Chechen towers that go back to

Danish citizens and their media have well understood one glaring fact in the
Russian claim for Mr Zakayev's extradition. On September 21 2001, the
Russian deputy prosecutor issued an arrest warrant for Mr Zakayev for
"unlawful military action" and "an attack on a member of a law enforcement
agency" (this accusation was also untrue). Yet on November 12, some 40 days
later, as President Maskhadov's representative, he met President Putin's
representative, General Kazantsev, for talks in Moscow. So how could Russian
Interpol claim that Mr Zakayev "hid himself from investigation"?

The Danish police explain that, under their law and the European extradition
treaty, they were obliged to arrest Mr Zakayev. In a signed letter to Lord
Judd, special rapporteur for Chechnya to the Council of Europe, Mr Zakayev
has insisted that the Chechen leadership had no connection with the Moscow
terrorist action of October 23 and rejected all acts of terrorism against
civilians, stating that terrorism could not solve any problem whatsoever.
Any evidence produced by the Russian government against Mr Zakayev will be a
KGB-style fabrication. I am certain that the Danish judicial and police
authorities are and will be scrupulous and believe that the country which
saved its Jewish citizens from the Nazis will not pronounce for extradition
without due process. However, I am deeply concerned that the new "fast
track" European extradition laws may not permit the time to clear Mr
Zakayev's name. Intense Russian pressure is being put on the Danish justice
minister, now in Moscow.

Mr Zakayev is the main advocate in Europe for a ceasefire between both
sides, mutual collaboration against terrorists - both Chechen and Russian -
and a negotiated political solution to bring peace. If he were to be
extradited, it would be evidence that the dark days of Stalin and his secret
police, the GPU, had returned, for Russian citizens as well as Chechens.

· Vanessa Redgrave is co-founder of the International Campaign for Peace and
Human Rights in Chechnya; she is currently producing and acting in a film of
Wallace Shawn's The Fever

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