EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS
CASE OF GAKAYEVA AND OTHERS v. RUSSIA
(Applications Nos. 51534/08, 4401/10, 25518/10, 28779/10, 33175/10, 47393/10, 54753/10, 58131/10, 62207/10 and 73784/10)
<*> This judgment will become final in the circumstances set out in Article 44 § 2 of the Convention. It may be subject to editorial revision.
In the case of Gakayeva and Others v. Russia,
The European Court of Human Rights (First Section), sitting as a Chamber composed of:
Isabelle , President,
Dmitry Dedov, judges,
and Wampach, Deputy Section Registrar,
Having deliberated in private on 17 September 2013,
Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on that date:
1. The case originated in ten applications (see details in Appendix I) against the Russian Federation lodged with the Court under Article 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms («the Convention») by Russian nationals («the applicants»), on the dates indicated below in Appendix I.
2. The applicants were represented before the Court by Mr D. Itslayev, a lawyer practising in Grozny, lawyers from the Stichting Russian Justice Initiative (SRJI), an NGO based in the Netherlands with a representative office in Russia, and lawyers from the Memorial Human Rights Centre, an NGO based in Moscow. The Russian Government («the Government») were represented by Mr G. Matyushkin, Representative of the Russian Federation at the European Court of Human Rights.
3. The applicants alleged that on various dates between 2000 and 2005 their thirteen relatives had been detained by State servicemen in Chechnya and that no effective investigation into the matter had taken place.
4. On 9 September 2011 the applications were communicated to the Government. It was also decided to rule on the admissibility and merits of the applications at the same time (Article 29 § 1).
I. The circumstances of the case
5. The applicants are Russian nationals who live in various districts of the Chechen Republic. They are close relatives of persons who disappeared, allegedly, after having been arrested by servicemen, in various public places in the region. In each of the applications the events took place in areas under the full control of the Russian federal forces. The applicants have had no news of their missing relatives since the alleged arrests.
6. The applicants complained about the circumstances to law-enforcement bodies, and official investigations were opened. The proceedings were repeatedly suspended and resumed, and have remained pending for several years without attaining any tangible results. The investigations consisted mainly of making requests for information and formal requests to their counterparts in various parts of Chechnya and other regions of the North Caucasus to carry out operative search measures. The requests received negative responses or no replies at all.
7. From the documents submitted it appears that the relevant State authorities were unable to identify the State servicemen allegedly involved in the arrests or abductions.
8. In their observations the Government did not challenge the allegations as presented by the applicants. At the same time, they stated that there was no evidence to prove beyond reasonable doubt that State agents had been involved in the abductions.
9. Below are the summaries of the facts relevant to each individual complaint. The personal data of the applicants and their disappeared relatives, and some other key facts, are summarised in the attached table (Appendix I).
A. Application No. 51534/08, Gakayeva v. Russia
10. The applicant, Ms Zara Gakayeva, was born in 1952 and lives in Avtury, Chechnya. She is represented before the Court by lawyers from the Stichting Russian Justice Initiative.
11. The applicant is the mother of Mr Timerlan Soltakhanov, who was born in 1977.
1. Abduction of Timerlan Soltakhanov
12. According to the applicant, on 7 June 2003 Timerlan Soltakhanov went to Shali with his aunt, Ms R.G., to visit his sister, Ms T. Akh. Timerlan and his two female relatives met an acquaintance, Mr Dzh. Abdurzakov, near the central market. The four of them were talking when a grey UAZ minivan (tabletka) pulled over and a group of six or seven armed men of Slavic appearance got out of the vehicle. The men, who were in camouflage uniforms and armed with automatic weapons, opened gunfire. Timerlan Soltakhanov was wounded in the leg and fell. The men put him in their vehicle. Meanwhile, two UAZ vehicles from the Shali district department of the interior («the Shali ROVD») arrived at the scene. The police officers tried to stop the men from driving away. As a result, two of the men, who had not managed to get into the vehicle, started fighting with the police; they were eventually detained by the police and taken to the Shali ROVD.
13. Shortly after the events the applicant and two other individuals went to the Shali ROVD where the head of the Shali district department of the Federal Security Service («the Shali FSB»), in the presence of the head of the Shali town administration and the head of the Avtury village administration, explained to them that the man who had been wounded during the arrest was not Timerlan Soltakhanov, but Mr Dzh. Abdurzakov, sought by the authorities as an active member of illegal armed groups. The head of the FSB denied that his servicemen had participated in the arrest but could not explain how he knew about the events.
14. According to the applicant, it was her son, Timerlan Soltakhanov, whom the authorities had wounded and arrested by mistake on 7 June 2003 and not Mr Dzh. Abdurzakov, who remained at large. At a later date she learnt that Mr Dzh. Abdurzakov had been killed resisting arrest in 2005.
15. There has been no news of Timerlan Soltakhanov since 7 June 2003.
2. Official investigation
16. The Government furnished a copy of «the entire criminal case file No. 22099» without specifying the number of pages. The information submitted may be summarised as follows.
(a) Opening of the criminal investigation
17. On 9 June 2003 the applicant complained to the Shali district prosecutor’s office, stating that on 7 June 2003 her son Timerlan Soltakhanov had been abducted in broad daylight at the Shali bus station by military servicemen driving a UAZ minivan.
18. On 25 June 2003 the Shali district prosecutor’s office opened criminal case No. 22099 under Article 126 of the Criminal Code (abduction).
(b) Main witness statements taken by the investigators
19. On 25 June 2003 the applicant’s daughter, Ms T. Akh, stated that she had witnessed the abduction of her brother, Timerlan Soltakhanov, by a group of armed servicemen in camouflage uniforms at the Shali bus station. The servicemen had wounded Timerlan, then had forced him into their UAZ minivan, which had had no registration number, and driven away.
20. On 18 May 2004 the applicant stated that at about 12 noon on 7 June 2003, she and her relatives had been at the bus station at the centre of Shali when two military vehicles, a Gazel and a UAZ, had arrived at the scene. Armed men in camouflage uniforms had got out of the vehicles and cordoned off the bus station. She had then seen a man with a gun running away. The armed men had attempted to grab Timerlan and fired several gunshots. Timerlan had fallen to the ground; the men had picked him up and put him in their grey UAZ vehicle. After that both vehicles had driven away. The applicant, together with a number of other individuals present during the incident, had followed the abductors’ vehicles on foot and seen them pulling over at the premises of the Shali FSB.
21. On 19 May 2004 Ms Z.M. stated that in the summer of 2003 she had been working as a vendor near the bus station in the centre of Shali. At around 12 noon on an unspecified date that summer, she had heard gunfire at the bus station and had seen armed men in camouflage uniforms running around. She had later learnt that the men had arrested someone.
22. On 5 June 2006 the investigator questioned Mr I.E., a member of a human rights organisation affiliated with the Moscow Helsinki Project Group. The relevant part of his statement reads as follows:
«…At around 12 noon on 7 June 2003 while crossing the centre of Shali near the bus station, I witnessed a group of armed men in camouflage uniforms dragging a wounded young man in civilian clothes to a grey UAZ… Afterwards, I questioned the eyewitnesses and found out that the armed men had fired at Timerlan Soltakhanov… I went to the Shali ROVD to inquire about the incident. [Mr M.A., the head of the Shali ROVD] told me that… this operation had been conducted by officers of [the Shali FSB]… [Mr M.A.] called [A.K., the head of the Shali FSB] to come to his office. After ten to fifteen minutes, A.K. came over… and I asked him how they had conducted the operation as a result of which they had killed an innocent man, Timerlan Soltakhanov. Mr A.K. replied that the arrested man had not been killed, but only wounded and that his name was not Timerlan Soltakhanov, but Dzh. Abdurzakov, who was an active member of illegal armed groups… Mr A.K. also mentioned that the officers of his department had taken part in this operation… but then added that he did not know who had carried out this operation… After that I left… Sometime later I learnt that Dzh. Abdurzakov had been killed in 2005 resisting arrest. Therefore, the man arrested on 7 June 2003 in the centre of Shali was not Dzh. Abdurzakov, but Timerlan Soltakhanov, who had been arrested by mistake…»
(c) Main investigative steps taken by the authorities
23. On 10 and 11 June 2003 the Shali district prosecutor’s office requested that the Shali FSB inform them whether they had arrested and detained the applicant’s son. The letters stated that Timerlan Soltakhanov had been arrested on 7 June 2003 by officers of the Shali FSB in the centre of Shali and that the incident had taken place in the presence of numerous witnesses, including his sister and officers of the Shali ROVD.
24. On 25 June 2003 the applicant’s daughter, Ms T. Akh., was granted victim status in the criminal case.
25. On the same date the investigators questioned several witnesses.
26. On 30 June 2003 the Shali FSB informed the investigators that they had not arrested or detained the applicant’s son.
27. On 17 July 2003 the investigators again asked the Shali FSB to inform them of the reasons for Timerlan Soltakhanov’s arrest, pointing out that the latter had been arrested in the presence of numerous witnesses, including police officers. No reply was given to the request. The investigators also sent requests to various law-enforcement agencies seeking information about the possible carrying out of special operations on the day of the abduction of the applicant’s son.
28. On an unspecified date the investigators sent an information request to the Shali ROVD. The relevant parts of the request read as follows:
«The investigation has established that at about 12 noon on 7 June 2003 unidentified armed men in camouflage uniforms, [who] belonged to federal forces and arrived in a UAZ vehicle, wounded [the applicant’s son]… and then arrested [him] in the centre of Shali.
At the above-mentioned time on 7 June 2003 officers of the Shali FSB, Mr M.Ya. and Mr S.T., were beaten and taken to the [police station] by officers of the Shali ROVD. According to the officers of the Shali ROVD, these men were taken there in connection with the abduction of Timerlan Soltakhanov. Mr M.Ya. and Mr S.T. stated that the arrest which had taken place had been that of a certain Mr Abdurzakov, a member of illegal armed groups, and that, therefore, they had been beaten and detained by the police officers without any grounds…»
29. On 25 August 2003 the investigators questioned the two officers of the Shali ROVD who had been on duty at the police station on 7 June 2003. Both officers denied having seen anyone being brought to the police station on that date.
30. On 25 August 2003 the investigation of the criminal case was suspended for failure to identify the perpetrators.
31. On 16 April 2004 the supervising prosecutor overruled the decision to suspend the investigation as unlawful and premature, and ordered that it be resumed.
32. On 5 May 2004 the investigators examined the crime scene. No evidence was collected.
33. On 18 May 2004 the applicant was granted victim status in the criminal case.
34. The investigation was further suspended and resumed on numerous occasions and is still pending.
3. Proceedings to obtain access to the file
35. On 9 February 2007 the applicant requested that the investigators allow her to access the investigation file.
36. On 21 February 2007 the investigators rejected her request, stating that she had the right of access to the file only following completion of the investigation.
37. On 24 July 2007 the applicant appealed against the refusal to the Shali District Court.
38. On 22 October 2007 the court rejected her complaint.
39. On 20 February 2008 the Chechnya Supreme Court overruled the decision and forwarded the complaint for a fresh examination.
40. On 28 March 2008 the Shali District Court allowed the applicant’s complaint.
41. On 18 August 2008 the applicant and her lawyer were allowed to familiarise themselves with the contents of the investigation file.
B. Application No. 4401/10, Yesiyeva and Others v. Russia
42. The applicants are:
1) Ms Laylya Yesiyeva, born in 1937;
2) Ms Zulkahn Dzukayeva, born in 1973;
3) Mr Ziaudi Yesiyev, born in 1936;
4) Ms Malika Yesiyeva, born in 1996;
5) Mr Shamil Yesiyev, born in 1998;
6) Mr Shamkhan Yesiyev, born in 1999, and
7) Mr Khalid Yesiyev, born in 2002.
43. The applicants live in Grozny, Chechnya. They are represented before the Court by lawyers from the Stichting Russian Justice Initiative.
44. The applicants are close relatives of Mr Aldam Yesiyev (also spelled Yelsiyev), who was born in 1967. The first applicant is his mother, the second applicant is his wife, the third applicant is his father and the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh applicants are his children.
1. Abduction of Aldam Yesiyev
45. At the material time Aldam Yesiyev was working as a taxi driver of a Gazel minivan, on the route between Grozny and Urus-Martan.
46. According to the applicants, at about 3 p.m. on 19 September 2002 Aldam Yesiyev was in his minivan at a taxi stand located next to a on Sovetskaya Street in the centre of Urus-Martan. A group of armed masked men in military uniforms arrived at the taxi stand in two khaki-coloured UAZ vehicles, one of which was a minivan (tabletka). They jumped out of the vehicles, grabbed Aldam Yesiyev and forced him into one of their vehicles. Speaking unaccented Russian, they threatened to shoot the bystanders if anyone tried to approach. They then drove away in the direction of Grozny.
47. There has been no news of Aldam Yesiyev ever since.
2. Official investigation
48. The Government submitted a copy of the entire content (228 pages) of criminal case file No. 61133 on the abduction of Aldam Yesiyev. The information submitted may be summarised as follows.
(a) Opening of the criminal investigation
49. On 20 September 2002 the third applicant complained about the abduction to the Urus-Martan district department of the interior («the Urus-Martan ROVD»), stating that on 19 September 2002 his son Aldam had been abducted in broad daylight from his vehicle in Urus-Martan by armed masked men in military uniforms who had been driving two UAZ vehicles.
50. On 27 September 2002 the Urus-Martan district prosecutor’s office («the district prosecutor’s office») opened criminal case No. 61133 under Article 126 of the Criminal Code (abduction).
(b) Main witness statements taken by the investigators
51. On 27 September 2002 Mr M. Sh., a school teacher, informed the investigator that he had been walking home from school along Sovetskaya Street when he had seen a military minivan (tabletka) pulling over at the taxi stand. A group of about five armed masked men in military uniforms had got out of their vehicle, surrounded a Gazel minivan and dragged the driver out of the vehicle. After kicking him several times, they had forced him into one of their vehicles and driven away in the direction of Grozny.
52. On the same date the third applicant was questioned. He stated that a taxi driver had arrived at his home and informed him about the abduction of his son.
53. On 19 November 2002 Mr A.V., a taxi driver, stated that he had been sitting in a car with other taxi drivers at the taxi stand when he had seen a UAZ vehicle drive speedily away. He learnt from bystanders that Aldam Yesiyev had just been taken away.
54. On 25 April 2006 the investigators questioned the first and second applicants, who stated that at about 5 p.m. on 19 September 2002 taxi drivers had arrived at their home and informed them about the abduction of Aldam by armed masked men in camouflage uniforms, who had been driving two UAZ vehicles.
55. On 6 May 2009 the investigators questioned the first applicant, who stated that five days prior to her husband’s abduction, on 14 September 2002, she and her husband had been stopped at the checkpoint next to the railway station in Grozny for an identity check. Having checked their passports, the servicemen told her husband that he was lucky that his surname was not «Yevsiyev». The first applicant found out that the authorities had been searching for a certain Mr Yevsiyev, the spelling of whose surname was similar to that of Aldam’s.
(c) Main investigative steps taken by the authorities
56. On 27 September 2002 the third applicant was granted victim status in the criminal case and questioned.
57. In October and November 2002 the district prosecutor’s office requested various law-enforcement agencies to provide information about Adam Yesiyev’s arrest and detention. Negative replies were given.
58. On 27 November 2002 the investigation was suspended for failure to identify the perpetrators. No investigative steps were taken between November 2002 and April 2006.
59. On 8 April 2006 the supervising prosecutor overruled the decision to suspend the investigation as unlawful and premature, and ordered that it be resumed.
60. On 10 April 2006 the district prosecutor’s office ordered the ROVD to carry out operative search measures.
61. On 17 April 2006 the second applicant was granted victim status in the criminal case and questioned.
62. On 25 April 2006 the first and second applicants were questioned.
63. On 8 May 2006 the investigation was suspended. It was resumed the next day and then suspended again.
64. On 6 May 2009 the first applicant was granted victim status in the criminal case and questioned.
65. In May 2009 the investigators again sent numerous information requests to various law-enforcement agencies about Aldam’s arrest and detention. Negative replies were given.
66. The criminal proceedings are still pending.
C. Application No. 25518/10, Alimkhanova and Others v. Russia
67. The applicants are:
1) Ms Madina Alimkhanova, born in 1976;
2) Mr Aslambek Alimkhanov, born in 1970;
3) Mr Ibragim Alimkhanov, born in 1994;
4) Mr Imam Alimkhanov, born in 1996;
5) Mr Rakhman Alimkhanov, born in 1999;
6) Mr German Alimkhanov, born in 1997;
7) Mr Rakhim Alimkhanov, born in 2001;
8) Mr Turpal Khatulov, born in 2000;
9) Ms Linda Khatulova, born in 1998, and
10) Ms Khadizhat Khatulova, born in 1995;
68. The applicants live in Argun, Chechnya. They are represented before the Court by Mr D. Itslayev.
69. The applicants are from two related families. They are close relatives of Mr Khamzat Alimkhanov, who was born in 1972, and Mr Sulim Khatulov, who was born in 1970. The first applicant is the sister of Khamzat Alimkhanov and the wife of Sulim Khatulov; the second applicant is Khamzat Alimkhanov’s brother; the third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh applicants are his sons. The eighth, ninth and tenth applicants are Sulim Khatulov’s children.
1. Abduction of Khamzat Alimkhanov and Sulim Khatulov
70. At the material time the first, eighth, ninth and tenth applicants lived in Komsomolskaya (also spelt Komsomolskoye) village in the Grozny district of Chechnya. It appears that the other applicants, as well as Khamzat Alimkhanov, lived in Argun.
71. On 25 January 2001 Khamzat Alimkhanov went to Komsomolskaya to visit the first applicant.
72. On 26 January 2001 Russian federal forces from the 71st regiment of the Ministry of Defence («the MO») and the 46th brigade of the Ministry of the Interior («the MVD») arrived in Komsomolskaya in armoured personnel carriers («APC»), battle infantry vehicles («BMP») and military Ural lorries to conduct a special «sweeping» operation. The military servicemen cordoned off the village and ran an identity check of all the residents.
73. According to the applicants, at about 10 a.m. on 26 January 2001 Khamzat Alimkhanov decided to go back to Argun. He and his brother-in-law, Sulim Khatulov, were walking to the bus station when they were stopped by servicemen for an identity check. When they discovered that Khamzat did not reside in Komsomolskaya, the servicemen detained him for a further check. Sulim decided to accompany Khamzat. Having seen Sulim and Khamzat talking to the servicemen, the head of Komsomolskoye village administration, Mr K.B., approached and asked what was going on. The servicemen told him that they were taking Khamzat to the operation’s headquarters on the north-eastern outskirts of the village for a further check. The servicemen put Khamzat and Sulim into a Ural vehicle and drove away.
74. At about 11 a.m. Mr K.B. went to the headquarters and spoke with a military colonel, who introduced himself as «Butov» and who confirmed that Sulim Khatulov and Khamzat Alimkhanov had been apprehended by servicemen and then taken somewhere, but not to their premises.
75. The special operation finished in the afternoon of 26 January 2001. The military servicemen split into two groups and drove to Khankala, where the main base of the federal forces was located, and to the village of Goryacheistochkinskaya in the Grozny district.
76. There has been no news of Khamzat Alimkhanov and Sulim Khatulov ever since.
2. Official investigation
77. The Government submitted a copy of «the entire criminal case file No. 19015» (244 pages) into the abduction of Khamzat Alimkhanov and Sulim Khatulov. The information submitted may be summarised as follows.
(a) Opening of the criminal investigation
78. From the documents submitted it appears that Khamzat Alimkhanov’s father, Mr L.A., reported the abduction of his son and Sulim Khatulov to the authorities at the latest on 5 February 2001 (see paragraphs 80 and 81 below).
79. On 28 February 2001 the Grozny district prosecutor’s office opened criminal case No. 19015 under Article 127 of the Criminal Code (unlawful deprivation of liberty). The relevant parts of the decision read as follows:
«…Between 7 a.m. and 2 p.m. on 26 January 2001 in the village of Komsomolskoye a «sweeping» [operation] was conducted by servicemen from the 71st regiment and 46th brigade… assisted by officers of the military commander’s office, the FSB and the VOVD [temporary department of the interior] of the Grozny district.
In the course of the operation at about 12 noon Sulim Khatulov… was arrested near his home. Together with him, his brother-in-law… Khamzat Alimkhanov was also arrested. Afterwards, they were both put into a KAVZ bus with the registration number 15-61 SA and taken away to an unknown destination…»
(b) Main witness statements taken by the investigators
80. On 30 January 2001 the investigators questioned an officer of the Grozny district VOVD, Mr O.A., who confirmed that his department had participated in the special operation, but stated that his unit had not detained anyone.
81. On 31 January 2001 the head of the village administration, Mr K.B., informed the investigator that at about 12 noon on 26 January 2001 during the special operation Khamzat Alimkhanov and Sulim Khatulov had been detained following a passport check and had been taken away in a vehicle with the registration number 15-61 SA.
82. On 28 March 2001 the deputy commander of the 71st regiment, Mr V.K., who was responsible for the special operation, told the investigators that on 26 January 2001 he and officers of the 46th brigade of the MVD and the Grozny district VOVD had conducted a special operation in Komsomolskoye. However, his regiment had not arrested any of the local residents and he did not know whether anyone had been arrested by officers of the 46th brigade or the VOVD. Two members of the regiment, Mr Z.O. and Mr N.N., were also questioned by the investigators and gave statements similar to the one given by their superior, Mr V.K.
83. On 10 April 2004 the first applicant stated that on 25 January 2001 her brother had visited her at her home because she had been ill. At about 1 p.m. the following day, a neighbour had told her that her husband and brother had been taken away by military servicemen. She later found out that they had been taken to the military headquarters located next to a farm. She had gone to their premises, but had not been allowed to enter. Then the head of the village administration, Mr K.B., together with a police officer, Mr H.B., had also gone there and had been let in. They later told her that her relatives had been transferred elsewhere, but did not specify the location.
84. On 12 April 2004 the second applicant stated that on 25 January 2001 his brother, Khamzat Alimkhanov, had gone to Komsomolskaya to visit their sister, Ms M.A., who had been ill. The next day Sulim Khatulov’s brother, Mr R.Kh, had arrived at their family house and told them that Khamzat and Sulim had been detained by servicemen of the 71st regiment under the command of Colonel «Butov». Sulim and Khamzat had then been taken to the premises of the 71st regiment, from where they had been transferred to the military base in Khankala in a Ural lorry with the registration number 15-61 SA.
(c) Main investigative steps taken by the authorities
85. On 28 February 2001 the investigator sent requests to various law-enforcement agencies asking for information concerning the whereabouts of the abducted men. No replies were received.
86. On 28 April 2001 the investigation was suspended for failure to identify the perpetrators. No more investigative steps were taken until March 2004.
87. On 10 March 2004 the investigation was resumed. It was further suspended and resumed on several occasions.
88. On 15 March 2004 the father of Khamzat Alimkhanov, Mr L.A., was granted victim status in the criminal case.
89. On 18 March 2004 the Grozny district prosecutor’s office ordered the police to carry out operative search measures.
90. On 10 April 2004 the first applicant was granted victim status in the criminal case. On the same date the investigation was suspended. The applicants were not informed thereof.
91. On 10 December 2004 the investigator added photographs of Khamzat Alimkhanov and Sulim Khatulov to the criminal case file.
92. On 29 November 2004 the investigation was resumed and then on 30 December 2004 it was again suspended. The applicants were not informed thereof.
93. On 23 January 2007 the investigation was again resumed and several witnesses were questioned. On 23 February 2007 it was suspended yet again. The applicants were informed thereof.
94. On an unspecified date between February 2007 and March 2008 the applicants requested that the investigation be resumed.
95. On 14 April 2008 the investigation was resumed and then suspended on 14 May 2008. The applicants were informed thereof in writing on 30 May 2008. The letter also stated that in spite of the suspension, operational search measures were being carried out to have the crime resolved.
96. On 1 December 2011 the criminal proceedings were resumed and are currently pending.
D. Application No. 28779/10, Magamadova v. Russia
97. The applicant is Ms Kamizat Magamadova, who was born in 1953 and lives in Urus-Martan, Chechnya. She is represented before the Court by Mr D. Itslayev.
98. The applicant is the mother of Mr Akhmed Gazuyev, who was born in 1976.
1. Special operation in Urus-Martan
99. At about 11 a.m. on 25 December 2000 the federal forces were conducting a special operation in the vicinity of the market in Urus-Martan to arrest members of an illegal armed group. According to operative information, the group was preparing to commit a terrorist attack against the head of the local administration. Two members of illegal armed groups, Mr K.N. and Mr A.D., were shot dead in their vehicles as a result of an exchange of fire. A submachine gun, pistols, cartridges and a grenade launcher (Шмель) were found in their vehicles. Mr Kh. Elzh., who had been driving one of the vehicles, was taken to the Chechnya FSB and questioned.
2. Abduction of Akhmed Gazuyev
100. According to the applicant, at about 11 a.m. on 25 December 2000 the servicemen, who had arrived at the market in an APC, a Ural lorry and a VAZ-2121 («Niva») car belonging to the head of the local administration, Ms Sh.Ya., detained Akhmed Gazuyev who had been walking to his aunt’s house. The servicemen put him in the Niva car and took him to the centre of Urus-Martan. The applicant later discovered that Mr Kh. Elzh., who had been in the same vehicle as Mr K.N. during the operation, had also been arrested by the servicemen.
101. In the morning of 26 December 2000 the applicant was informed by her cousin, Mr U.G., about her son’s arrest during the special operation. Mr U.G. told her that he had just seen her son Akhmed sitting in a Niva car between two military servicemen; the car, along with the APC and the Ural lorry, had passed by Mr U.G.’s house.
102. In the evening of 27 December 2000 the Urus-Martan district military commander, Mr G.G., stated in a television programme that his unit had arrested a member of illegal armed groups, and read out identity information on Akhmed Gazuyev.
103. On 28 December 2000 the applicant’s cousin, Mr U.G., talked to the head of the local administration, Mr Sh. Ya. The latter confirmed that Akhmed Gazuyev had been arrested by servicemen and was being detained in the Urus-Martan district military commander’s office.
104. Several days later the deputy head of the administration, Mr L.M., informed the applicant that her son Akhmed had been transferred from Urus-Martan to the village of Tangi-Chu in the Urus-Martan district.
105. The applicant went to Tangi-Chu, where a soldier told her that her son had been transferred from there to the main military base of the federal forces in Khankala, Chechnya.
106. The applicant visited the Khankala military bases on several occasions, but was unable to obtain any information about her son. There has been no news of Akhmed Gazuyev since his arrest.
107. On 22 March 2001 the bodies of Mr Kh. Elzh. and an unidentified man with traces of torture were found in the tank of an abandoned petrol station next to the main road between Urus-Martan and Alkhan-Yurt. One of the bodies had numerous bone fractures and the skull had been partially destroyed. The other had been beheaded.
3. Official investigation
108. The Government submitted a copy of the entire criminal case file No. 25239 (128 pages) on the abduction of Akhmed Gazuyev. The information submitted may be summarised as follows.
(a) Opening of a criminal investigation into attempted acts of terrorism
109. On 25 December 2000, following a special operation, the Urus-Martan district prosecutor’s office («the district prosecutor’s office») opened a criminal investigation (case No. 24094) into attempted acts of terrorism, illegal storage of firearms and participation in illegal armed groups.
110. On 26 December 2000 the investigator from the Urus-Martan FSB questioned Mr Kh. Elzh. The latter stated that he had bought ammunition from soldiers of federal forces and sold them to members of illegal armed groups. At about 10 a.m. on 25 December 2000 he had met Mr K.N., who had climbed into his car and told him that there would be a meeting with leaders of illegal armed groups. Ten minutes later federal servicemen had arrived and forced them to get out of the car. Mr K.N. had attempted to escape, but the servicemen had shot him dead.
111. On 26 January 2001 the Chechnya Prosecutor’s office examined the case file and ordered the district prosecutor’s office to take investigative steps, stating, amongst other things, the following:
«…These orders are to be followed in criminal case No. 24094, opened into the arrest of [Mr Kh. Elzh], [Akhmed Gazuyev] and [Mr A.D.] in Urus-Martan, and their subsequent death…
In the course of the investigation it is necessary that the investigators:…
4. Question the FSB investigator who interrogated the detained Mr Kh. Elzh. and find out where [the latter] was subsequently transferred for detention.
5. Request and include in the case file documents confirming the death of Mr Kh. Elzh. and Akhmed Gazuyev…»
112. On 18 January 2001 the investigator requested that the Urus-Martan FSB provide information concerning the whereabouts of Mr Kh. Elzh. On 1 February 2001 the FSB replied:
«On 25 December 2000 Mr Kh. Elzh. was arrested by officers of [the VOVD]. On 26 December 2000 he was questioned by the investigator of [the FSB department]. Upon completion of the investigative steps Mr Kh. Elzh. was released… At present we have no information concerning Mr Kh. Elzh.’s whereabouts…»
113. On 25 February 2001 the investigator decided to suspend the investigation for failure to identify the perpetrators. He stated that Mr K.N. and Mr A.D. had been killed during the special operation and that one member of an illegal armed group whose identity was impossible to establish had managed to abscond.
(b) Institution of criminal proceedings in connection with the discovery of bodies
114. Following the discovery of the bodies of Mr Kh. Elzh. and an unidentified man on 22 March 2001, the investigator examined the crime scene. He did not order a forensic examination of the bodies and no attempts were made to establish the identity of the second body.
115. On 28 March 2001 the district prosecutor’s office instituted criminal proceedings (case No. 25257) under Article 105 the Criminal Code (murder).
(c) Opening of a criminal investigation into Akhmed Gazuyev’s disappearance
116. On 11 March 2001 Mr U.G., the applicant’s husband, complained about the disappearance of his son to the Urus-Martan temporary district department of the interior («the VOVD»).
117. On 21 March 2001 the VOVD opened criminal case No. 25239 under Article 126 of the Criminal Code (abduction).
(d) Main witness statements taken by the investigators and main investigative steps taken by the authorities
118. On 28 December 2000 the investigators questioned the deputy head of the local administration, Mr L.M., who stated that he had participated in the special operation on 25 December 2000 and that he had, amongst other things, personally assisted in the detention of Akhmed Gazuyev:
«…I dragged him out of the car; then I searched the vehicle and I found a bomb prepared for explosion on the back seat. We… took [Akhmed Gazuyev] to the premises of the local administration…»
119. On 21 February 2001 the district prosecutor’s office informed the applicant that Akhmed Gazuyev had not been detained in the VOVD and no criminal charges had been brought against him.
120. On 11 March 2001 the applicant’s husband informed the investigator that on 25 December 2000 Akhmed had left home at about 11 a.m. and had not been since since. He further stated that on 27 December 2000 the Urus-Martan district military commander, Mr G.G., had said in a television programme that the authorities had arrested members of illegal armed groups and named among them Akhmed Gazuyev.
121. On 21 March 2001 the applicant’s husband was granted victim status in the criminal case.
122. On 22 March 2001 the applicant was questioned and gave a statement similar to her husband’s statement of 11 March 2001.
123. On 23 March 2001 the investigator examined the crime scene. No evidence was collected.
124. On 28 May 2001 the investigation was suspended for failure to identify the perpetrators and then resumed upon the supervising prosecutor’s orders on 30 October 2001.
125. On 31 October 2001 the investigator joined criminal cases Nos. 24094, 25257 and 25239, Akhmed Gazuyev being the subject of all three cases.
126. On 30 November 2001 the investigation was again suspended.
127. On 15 December 2006 and 12 February 2007 the applicant was informed by the Urus-Martan ROVD and the Urus-Martan district prosecutor’s office that the authorities were carrying out operational search measures to establish the whereabouts of her missing son.
128. On 18 November 2009 the investigation was resumed and the applicant was granted victim status in the criminal case. The investigator sent requests to various law-enforcement agencies asking them to provide information about Akhmed Gazuyev’s whereabouts.
129. On 19 November 2009 the investigation was suspended and the applicant was informed thereof.
130. The investigation is currently pending.
4. Proceedings to gain access to the file
131. On 9 December 2009 the applicant appealed to the Achkhoy-Martan District Court against the investigator’s refusal to grant her access to investigation file No. 25239.
132. On 21 December 2009 the court granted the request and ordered the investigator to allow the applicant to access the investigation file.