This is crushingly depressing in that special way something that seems totally unstoppable is.
Via Human Rights Watch, the latest threat against human rights advocates in Chechnya:
Akhmed Gisayev, a Memorial employee who had been working with Natalia Estemirova to investigate a sensitive human rights case in the days before her murder on July 15, 2009, has experienced a series of menacing events in the past days and weeks.
In the evening of August 13, a group of three or four armed men stopped Gisayev and his wife near their apartment in Grozny. The men pointed their weapons at Gisayev and demanded his documents. They refused to identify themselves or explain the reasons for the search. When Gisayev said that he worked at Memorial and showed his Memorial ID card, one of the men said: “And it’s your colleagues who are getting killed? And do you know why they’re getting killed?” They then returned Gisayev’s passport and left. The next morning, on August 14, Russian military and local security personnel conducted a passport check-and-search operation on Gisayev’s street. Such operations used to occur regularly, but have not occurred in Gisayev’s region for a long time. Some of the men who had threatened him the previous evening were among those who searched his apartment.
Prior to these events, Gisayev had observed a car parked next to his house on several occasions. The car had dark windows, a radio transmitter, and a license plate with a number not used for civilian vehicles, leading him to suspect that it belonged to the security services. Gisayev reported these incidents to the prosecutor’s office in Chechnya, but the authorities did not undertake any concrete measures to investigate them or to ensure Gisayev’s protection.
In the days before Estemirova was killed, Gisayev and Estemirova had been researching the case of a man who had been abducted and tortured by local law enforcement officials. When the man’s relatives began to work with Gisayev and Estemirova to take action on his case, the man was taken into incommunicado detention by local law enforcement from the hospital where he had been receiving treatment for his torture injuries. Memorial staff and the man’s relatives appealed to the local prosecutor’s office in the first week of July. Soon after, Gisayev began to notice the suspicious-looking vehicles outside his home.
Gisayev is an applicant in a case pending before the European Court of Human Rights, relating to his own illegal detention and torture by Russian servicemen in 2003.
The human rights movement does not need any more martyrs. If Akhmed Gisayev was my friend or co-worker, I would be doing my utmost to convince him to leave Chechnya, to leave Russia and seek asylum somewhere in Western Europe.
And yet, if every human rights advocate in a dangerous place took that advice, there would be no one to track down disappeared prisoners, uncover unmarked graves, and amplify voices of living victims. In the North Caucasus, this is lonely and, for many, eventually lethal work. Allies and colleagues in Brussels, Washington, London, New York and even Moscow can do little more than wait in dread by their phones and keep their computer screens open to email.
The condemnation of an activist’s murder in the Russian Federation now has its own form letter; all one needs to add is the who, where, and how. Everyone knows the why.
What more can one even say?
Stay safe? Good luck? Solidarity?