The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) condemns the physical assault by Chechen police officers in Nizhniy Novgorod of lawyer Natalya Dobronravova whose work included the representation of retired Supreme Court Judge of the Chechen Republic Saydi Yangulbaev, and his wife Zarema Musaeva.
The ICJ called on the authorities of the Russian Federation to conduct a prompt, thorough and impartial investigation into the conduct of the officers responsible with a view to bringing them to justice. In addition, the authorities must take effective measures to ensure that Natalya Dobronravova is protected against further threats to her safety and wellbeing.
On 20 January 2022, Chechen police officers arrived at the Yangulbayev’s home in order to apprehend Zarema Musaeva and Saydi Yangulbayev, purportedly to question them as witnesses in connection with a criminal case concerning charges of fraud allegedly taking place in 2019. Natalya Dobronravova, who arrived at their home to represent her clients was hit in the face by one of the police officers who detained Zarema Musaeva. The police were unable to detain Sayidi Yangulbayev after the lawyer explained to them that he had immunity as a former judge.
Injuries inflicted on the lawyer were registered in an emergency room. The Niznniy Novgorod Bar Association Commission on the Protection of the professional rights of lawyers has spoken out in support of lawyer Natalya Dobronravova and concluded that her rights have been violated.
The attack against the lawyer is part of the ongoing harassment of the Yangulbayev family, apparently provoked by the work of the couple’s sons, blogger Ibragim Yangulbaev and his brother Abubakar Yangulbaev, a human rights lawyer.
The ICJ highlights that any physical assault by a police officer is a violation of the criminal law of the Russian Federation, and where it is sufficiently severe may also amount to a violation of the prohibition against cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, protected under the European Convention on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the UN Convention Against Torture. The Russian Federation is a party to all of these treaties, which require an impartial, thorough and prompt investigations into allegations of violations.
In addition, under the UN Principles on the Role of Lawyers, States must ensure that lawyers are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference and that they do not suffer, or be threatened with prosecution for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards and ethics.
The incident which occurred on 20 January appears to be a part of an ongoing campaign of harassment led by the Chechen authorities against the Yangulbayev family, which has recently escalated.
In comments via the Telegram messenger, Ramzan Kadyrov, the Head of the Chechen Republic, said that the family “[was] waiting for a place either in prison or in the ground” and that “they should be detained, as required by law, and punished. And if they resist, […] destroyed as accomplices of terrorists, which they are”.
On 2 February 2022, Adam Delimkhanov, a deputy of the State Duma, the Parliament of the Russian Federation, speaking about the relatives of judge Yangulbaev on his Instagram account said as follows “[y]ou should know that day and night, without sparing our lives, property and offspring, we will chase you until we tear your heads off and kill you”.
Abubakar Yangulbaev, the son of judge Saydi Yanguklbaev and a lawyer formerly with the Committee Against Torture, a prominent Russian human rights NGO, alleges that the harassment of his family is connected with his human rights work. He has alleged that since 22 December 2021, a number of his family members has “disappeared” following raids on their homes by Chechen authorities. Shortly after voicing concerns about his relatives in Chechnya, Abubakar Yangulbaev himself was detained for questioning in Pyatigorsk and his home was searched by police. Abubakar Yangulbaev was released from custody on 28 December 2021. Since then, as recently as January 2022, he has reported that additional relatives have been detained and questioned by police, and while some have been released, other family members remain in police custody. He himself first fled the Russian Federation, and recently fled Georgia.
Since 20 January, Zarema Musaeva has remained in detention, as Chechen authorities have opened a criminal case against her for allegedly using violence against a police officer while she was in police custody. Her family alleges that the charges are politically motivated and are a part of the authorities’ campaign of harassment in retaliation against Ibragim and Abubakar Yangulbaev.
In addition to the criminal case against Zarema Musaeva, on 31 January 2022, Chechen authorities opened a criminal case against Ibragim Yangulbaev on charges of “calls for carrying out terrorist activity” and “public justification of terrorism or propaganda of terrorism using mass media”. In particular, the law enforcement authorities allege he posted such statements on the 1ADAT Telegram channel. Ibragim Yangulbaev previously served a prison sentence in connection with his online criticism of Chechen authorities via social media platforms.
Following his wife’s detention on and Ramzan Kadyrov’s public remarks, Judge Saydi Yangulbaev himself fled the Russian Federation. On 3 February, judge Yangulbaev was stripped of his status of a judge by the collegium of judges in the Chechen Republic, thus removing his judicial immunity.
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