Karim Zidan revisits the ongoing situation with Chechen MMA fighter Murad Amriev, who was extradited back to Chechnya last week after fleeing alleged torture in 2013.
Three days following Murad Amriev’s remarkable escape from Chechen commandos in Bryansk, the MMA fighter was back in Grozny, escorted under law enforcement supervision. Now clean-shaven and well dressed, Amriev took a seat inside an office in Chechnya’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, facing a professional video camera already recording his every facial movement. Flanked by his relatives and human rights activist Heda Saratov, Amriev was told to answer questions about the series of events that prompted him to flee his homeland.
The entire scene, a staged press conference for Chechen state television, was disconcerting.
“There is a story; I do not want to talk about it now,” responded Amriev when asked why he didn’t want to return home to Chechnya. Despite well-publicized reports from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and other organizations claiming that Amriev was in imminent danger upon his return to Chechnya, the fighter was now downplaying concerns about his safety. “I am very happy, and I was convinced that with regard to me, at this stage there was nothing illegal.”
Instead of renewing his allegations of torture at the hands of Chechen police, blood feuds with senior officials, and the threat on his life, Amriev continued to retract his previous statements and cautiously cover his bases. “At the moment I do not see any threat. Since yesterday, we came here, did not see anything,” he added.
The staged press conference raised more questions than answers, chief among them being why Amriev suddenly became tight-lipped about the people he previously claimed had abused him, and downplayed the allegations of torture. Understanding Amriev’s current predicament begins with understanding his importance to the Chechen government, as well as the conspiracy of silence imposed within Kadyrov’s republic.
‘Help, our Son is in Mortal Danger’
As reported in a previous BloodyElbow story, Murad Amriev’s problems began on June 4, when he returned to Russia to extend the foreign visa that allowed him to reside in Kiev. During his train ride home, Amriev was detained at Suzemka railway station, the first stop past the Ukrainian border. The fighter was held in temporary detention after being told he was on the federal wanted list for forgery, a request that was put in by the Chechen authorities after Amriev fled Grozny in 2013.
According to the Novaya Gazeta, Amriev’s arrest in Bryansk is rooted in a personal conflict with the head of Grozny’s police force, Magomed Dashaev. Back in 2013, Dashaev accused Amriev’s older brother of an attempt on his life, though was unable to act on it because the brother resided in Germany and was outside of his jurisdiction. Instead, the officer invoked a blood feud and transferred the burden of punishment onto younger brother Murad.
Amriev was kidnapped on August 25, 2013 and taken to a secret detention centre, where he was tortured repeatedly in order to sign a statement accusing his brother of attempted assassination. Despite being handcuffed to the ceiling for two days, where he was brutally beaten and electrocuted simply for being related to a suspect, Amriev refused to sign the document. He was eventually released, and immediately contacted the Committee for the Prevention of Torture before fleeing Chechnya.
For the following four years, Amriev resided in Kiev, Ukraine, where he became an WMMAA amateur champion and compiled a 3-0 record in professional MMA. However, upon his return to Russia in 2017 to extend his visa, he was arrested in Bryansk on the request of Chechen law enforcement, who had placed his name on the federal wanted list over supposed forgery charges on his passport. As reported by BloodyElbow, Amriev was able to escape from the Chechen commandos that surrounded the detention centre in Bryansk and once again fled Russia.
Amriev’s freedom, however, was short-lived. The fighter was captured in Belarus, where local authorities prepared for his immediate extradition back to the Chechen Republic. Human rights organizations claimed that his life would be in danger upon his return to Chechnya and demanded his immediate release, and his parents, who resided in Chechnya at the time, released a video pleading with Belarusian authorities not to extradite their son to imminent doom.
“We, the parents of Murad Sulumbekovich Amriev appeal to you with a request: Help us prevent the extradition of our son to the Chechen Republic, where he faces mortal danger. Previously, our son had been abused, has been kidnapped, and we could not help him. Please help us to prevent this. He did not do anything, did not break the law, they just him want to settle personal scores.”
The Amriev family’s heart-wrenching plea fell on deaf ears. Their youngest son was escorted back to Chechnya, where he remains under government control.
Policy of Silence
Since his forced return to the homeland he fled years earlier, Murad Amriev has been silent about his abusers, and non-committal towards the vivid torture allegations he repeatedly made in the past. The sudden shift in his demeanor emphasizes the policy of silence imposed on troublesome figures in Chechnya.
By placing Amriev in front of the camera and broadcasting his refutation of the torture allegations on national television, Kadyrov is applying the public humiliation and intimidation tactics that he has influenced in his pursuit of oppression. Through public humiliation, Kadyrov is able to silence a significant portion of his people by showing them what will happen if they are vocal about their experiences. Indeed, television shaming are commonplace within Kadyrov’s Chechnya—people who have publicly spoken out against the regime are dragged onto state-TV to apologize for their behaviour. Amriev is merely the latest to endure this humiliation.
The fighter’s case is a curious one, as he might have suffered a far different fate had his story not gone viral among mainstream media and human rights organizations. They demanded his release and raised awareness about the dangers he faced upon his return to Chechnya. This eventually promoted the US State Department to release a statement condemning Amriev’s arrest.
“We are gravely concerned about the safety and well-being of Murad Amriev, a Russian athlete from Chechnya, who was reportedly detained by Belarusian authorities and returned to Russia, where he may be in custody,” said department spokesperson Heather Nauert. “Mr. Amriev has reportedly expressed fears of torture and abuse in Chechnya. We urge the Russian government to ensure Mr. Amriev has access to his lawyer and that his rights under the Russian constitution, laws and international obligations are respected. We call on the Russian government to ensure the safety of Mr. Amriev and his lawyer.”
Naturally, this increased scrutiny and international pressure has limited Kadyrov’s ability to harm Amriev without potential international consequences that could impact relations between the Kremlin and the Chechen Republic. Instead, the Chechen warlord apparently staged a press conference where Amriev retracted his allegations against the government and later declared that the US State Department was attempting to “destabilize the situation” in Russia.
“There is peace in Chechnya, terrorism has been defeated, people have returned to normal life; all this undoubtedly disturbs the American authorities,” Kadyrov stated. “The US State Department’s statement regarding Murad Amriev’s security has nothing to do with sincere concerns about his fate; it’s just a convenient moment to once again bite Russia, to destabilize the situation in our country.”
In a bizarre turn of events, Kadyrov had managed to turn an MMA fighter’s arrest into an opportunity to spread his propaganda about the West.
“Certainly, it’s hard for the State Department not to talk about it, especially when no one asked its opinion,” he added. “Half the world is choking on its blood due to your so-called democracy. All of your human rights institutions are the apotheosis of hypocrisy. Whereas in Chechnya, there is the rule of law. Those who violate it, will be held responsible according to the law.”
Regardless of the image of Chechen law that Kadyrov may be attempting to portray in such comments, Murad Amriev will likely remain under the watchful eye of the Chechen government for the foreseeable future. The fighter revealed during the press conference that he was granted “security guarantees”, but it hard to determine Amriev’s fate once worldwide interest in his story dwindles to nothing more than a faded memory.