Fearing For His Safety, Chechen Rights Lawyer Yangulbayev Leaves Georgia

A Chechen rights lawyer, who along with his family members has been threatened to be killed by Chechen leaders, has left Georgia fearing for his safety in the Caucasus country.

Abubakar Yangulbayev, a former lawyer for the human rights group the Committee Against Torture, told RFE/RL on February 6 that he decided to leave Georgia, where he has been since late December, after he was informed that he had been followed by unknown individuals in Tbilisi in recent weeks.

"Security experts informed me about that. I have not noticed the surveillance myself, which means that it was conducted professionally enough. I decided not to live on the edge and chose to leave [Georgia]. There is no doubt that the surveillance is linked to the threats by top officials against me and my family members," Yangulbayev said.

The ordeal started last month when Chechen and local police officer forcibly took Yangulbayev’s mother, Zarema Yangulbayeva, aka Zarema Musayeva, from her apartment in the city of Nizhny Novgorod and transferred her to her native North Caucasus region of Chechnya, where she was charged with assaulting a police officer.

Chechnya's Kremlin-backed authoritarian ruler Ramzan Kadyrov, other Chechen officials, and a member of the Russian parliament’s lower chamber, the State Duma, Adam Delimkhanov, publicly vowed to kill all members of Yangulbayev's family, calling them "terrorists."

They also have called Igor Kalyapin, a founder of the Committee Against Torture, Novaya gazeta journalist Yelena Milashina, who often writes about rights abuses in Chechnya, and the Dozhd television channel "the accomplices of terrorists."

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Yangulbayev believes authorities are going after his family because of his criticism of Kadyrov and the rights situation in Chechnya. His father, retired federal Judge Saidi Yangulbayev, and his sister had to flee Russia following the threats. Last week, Milashina fled Russia as well.

Yangulbayev told RFE/RL that "in current Chechnya, only one person's rights are being respected and that man is Ramzan Kadyrov."

Over the weekend, Kalyapin told The Insider investigative website that he had left the Committee Against Torture, though he said the move was not linked to the threats.

Journalists, rights activists, and ordinary citizens across Russia have urged the government to take legal measures over the threatening statements by Chechen officials.

Russian and international human rights groups have for years accused Kadyrov of overseeing grave human rights abuses including abductions, torture, extrajudicial killings, and the persecution of the LGBT community. Kremlin critics say Russian President Vladimir Putin has turned a blind eye to the abuses and violations carried out by Kadyrov because he relies on the former rebel commander to control separatist sentiment and violence in Chechnya.

"That is what I would call a Russian Holocaust, where to abduct a person, to execute a person, is something unimportant," Yangulbayev said, adding that Chechens "will never forgive" Kadyrov and his government for what they have been doing in Chechnya for years.

According to Yangulbayev, the current situation in Chechnya is the result of two devastating post-Soviet wars in the volatile region that led to an Islamist insurgency that spread to other mostly Muslim regions in the North Caucasus.

Russian opposition politician Ilya Yashin launched an online petition on February 7 urging Putin to sack Kadyrov. Within hours, the petition had more than 40,000 signatures.

With reporting by The Insider