Thank you very much for your agreement to give an interview to the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum. Your organisation “MASHR” is the first Ingush human rights organisation in the Republic of Ingushetia. Can you please tell us how the work of human rights defenders is now possible in the Caucasus, particularly in Ingushetia?
The work of human rights defenders is not always a quite comfortable one because no one likes criticism, no one likes, when people point to their violations. Therefore, we have never felt absolutely secure. In recent years, human rights advocacy, independent media and civil society have increasingly been discredited. Of course, it is becoming more difficult to continue our work: We face unfounded accusations, constant pressure and constant checks. They have certain consequences, including psychological and legal ones. Evidence-free accusations and coercion waste a lot of our energy. We have to resist, to litigate, to take part in many legal processes. And then we become a little limited in helping people. We have always provided free legal and information assistance to the population of the republic and internally displaced persons, refugees, who by force of circumstances appeared on the territory of Ingushetia. Actually, we continue this activity, despite the pressure. For some reason, one always tries to accuse us of being active in the political opposition activities. In the Russian legislation, the provision of free legal assistance and even paid legal assistance is called charity work. That is what we are doing. All of us - the staff of our organisation, friends, partners, volunteers - continue to work within the legal framework. At this point, no one is going to abandon human rights activities.
At the end of 2015, your organisation and you personally came under attack. You were charged with absurd accusations. Has this situation been resolved? Or has the pressure been going on?
This is pressure, political speculations, the case is beyond any legal boundaries. Yes, indeed, on 6 November 2015 my house and the “MASHR” office were raided. On paper, it sounded like an ‘inspection’. But no documents were given to us, neither copies nor a chance to make a photo. All documentation of “MASHR” and all my (and my children’s) electronic devices were confiscated. They restricted our movement for seven hours. No one could enter the office or my home. My children did not go to kindergarten. I am convinced that all this was possible only because we were involved in the trial – we upheld the illegality of the act of the Ministry of Justice of the Republic. We won the lawsuit, the act of Ministry of Justice was ruled illegal. But in defiance of all norms, the judge adopted his personal ruling on us in addition to the satisfaction of our claims and ruling the actions and acts of the Ministry of Justice illegal. We are now having legal proceedings; our complaint is already in Moscow. Of course, no one has provided me with a ruling. I was not given a copy. I applied to the courts, all to no avail. The authorities tried to initiate several criminal cases through security agencies, quite offensive cases – porno peddling, justification of terrorism, and other things.
Finally, on 28 December 2016, an order was issued to dismiss a criminal case - due to the lack of evidence of a crime. This is the first ruling, which was given to me in early January. This ruling clearly said that the Investigative Committee requested compromising information on Magomed Mutsolgov or “MASHR” from the Federal Security Service of the Republic of Ingushetia, the Criminal Investigation Department, and the Centre for Extremism Counteraction. I was surprised by the request format, because there is no such a thing as “compromising information request” in the legal framework. They should have asked whether there were facts of violation of law by Mr Mutsolgov or the Human Rights Organisation “MASHR”. Fortunately, all three agencies said that there were no proof of my involvement in any violations, including porno peddling and justification of terrorism. The pressure was also connected with the upcoming election campaign. My younger brother headed the “Yabloko” party in Ingushetia at a time. These attempts to discredit me, the organisation, and my family were two-fold.
Now we have put the lid on the matter. There was no crime. However, we lost all our electronic devices. They returned everything, but when they say ‘we have found some videos on your computer’, of course, we could no longer use these devices. It is simply a security measure. I formatted hard drives and gave the devices to my friends, civil society activists and low-income families. A few things were spoiled - camcorders, one system unit… They did not return several financial documents, our business cards, badges, and a number of reports of human rights organisations, including international organisations. In due order, we drew up an act, documented all items, which had not been returned to us, and put in our internal documents file. I bought new devices. We work now again, everything is alright.