Posts Tagged Chechnya

Should Vladimir Putin be Respected as a Judo Practitioner?

Vladimir Putin doing JudoMany people don’t know that Russia’s President Putin has been a long time practitioner of the sport of Judo. In sixth grade he took up the Russian grappling sport of Sambo, and then Judo. He eventually graduated to the high rank of 5th Dan in Judo, authored a Judo book, and a few years ago put out a DVD titled, “Let’s Learn Judo With Vladimir Putin.”

I also practice and teach martial arts, and I subscribe to the blogs of some well known martial artists. One extremely skilled martial artist, and someone who I have the greatest respect for, recently wrote a post expressing pleasure that Putin’s practice of Judo has helped to popularize martial arts.

Certainly it’s good to see a well-known figure publicizing martial arts. However, I’d be happier if it weren’t someone who is essentially a war criminal. Under Putin’s watch, hundreds to thousands of civilians have been kidnapped, tortured or “disappeared” in Chechnya.

Russian police in Russia itself are notorious for torture. And within the military, humiliation and torture of recruits is common. Journalists and human rights activists who try to speak out about these matters take their lives into their hands.

Consider the murders of opposition figures and journalists such as Anna Politkskaya, Yuri Schekochikhin, Galina Starovoitova, Sergei Yushenkov, as well as imprisonments of human rights defenders, scientists, and journalists like Trepashkin, Igor Sutyagin, and Valentin Danilov.

Some might say, “Well, we are speaking of him as a sportsman, not a politician.” I know that’s the argument of those who are against politicizing the Olympics, for example.

But why should we legitimize him in that way? If an ordinary citizen committed such crimes he would be a terrorist. Why should someone be allowed to hide behind the veil of presidential authority and therefore excused from responsibility from terrible crimes?

As a human rights blogger, I condemn Putin’s human rights record. As a martial artist, I still condemn him. Being able to throw someone to the mat does not excuse murder.

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Justice for the Killing of Natalia Estemirova

Natalia Estemirova, human rights activist murdered in Chechnya

Natalia Estemirova, human rights activist murdered in Chechnya

Historical Background

Russia first began extending its rule over the Caucasus region in the late 1700’s. Ever since then the Chechens, a fierce Muslim people of the mountains, have been fighting for their freedom. The most famous Chechen opposition leader was Avar Imam Shamil, who led the fight against the Russians from 1834 to 1859.

The history of Russian control of Chechnya has been filled with abuses on a large and small scale, with the most outrageous being Stalin’s deportation of the entire Chechen and Ingush populations to Kazakhstan in 1944.

More recently, the First Chechen War of 1994 to 1996, and the Second Chechen War (which began in 199 and continues on a low-level basis) have been characterized by massive civilian deaths, war crimes on both sides, the creation of large refugee populations, widespread torture by the Russians and their local clients, and the murder by the Russians of reporters and human rights activists.

Anna Politkovskaya

Investigating abuses by the Russians (including death squad executions, disappearances and torture) has become one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. One of the best known cases was the assassination of Anna Politkovskaya in 2006. Politkovskaya was a Russian journalist who was well known for her opposition to the Russian occupation of Chechnya, and her criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Politkovskaya had given an interview to Radio Free Europe the week before her death in which she said she was a witness in a criminal case against Ramzan Kadyrov (Moscow’s puppet ruler in Chechnya) in connection with abductions in Chechnya—a case based on her reporting. In that same interview, she called Kadyrov the “Stalin of our days”.

The European Union and many governments condemned the murder of Politkovskaya, calling for a thorough investigation into the crime by Russian authorities. Though suspects were later arrested and taken to trial, they were ultimately acquitted, and the true actors behind this contemptible crime remain unknown and unpunished.

Natalia Estemirova

Now the world witnesses the murder of yet another brave soul working in Chechnya, Natalia Estemirova.

Natalia Estemirova, a leading human rights activist in the troubled Russian republic of Chechnya and a close colleague of Human Rights Watch, was abducted near her home in Grozny on the morning of July 15, 2009, and carried off in a car as people on a nearby balcony heard her call out that she was being kidnapped. She was found shot dead later that day in the neighboring republic of Ingushetia.

As a researcher with the leading Russian human rights group Memorial, Estemirova had been at the forefront of efforts to investigate human rights abuses and seek justice for their victims for close to a decade. She worked closely with Human Rights Watch, including on its recent investigations into the punitive killings and house burnings against people suspected by Chechen authorities of having links to rebels. She was honored by Human Rights Watch as a recipient of their Human Rights Defender Award in 2007, and received many other international prizes in recognition of her important human rights work, including the European Parliament’s Robert Schuman medal in 2005, and the “Right to Life” award from the Swedish Parliament in 2004. She was the first recipient of the Anna Politkovskaya prize, in honor of the slain Russian journalist.

Please call on President Medvedev to ensure a comprehensive, independent, and transparent investigation into the murder of Natalia Estemirova.

To send a message demanding an investigation into Ms. Estimirova’s death, click here.

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