Vienna, December 29 – A decision by a Russian court last week to grant conditional early release to a Russian colonel convicted of kidnapping and killing an 18-year-old Chechen girl in 2000 has sparked a wave of protests in Chechnya and cast doubt on Moscow’s ability to maintain order there by relying on Ramzan Kadyrov alone.
Last Wednesday, the Dmitrovgrad city court in Ulyanovsk oblast announced that it had approved the release after January 11 of Colonel Yury Budanov 14 months before the end of his prison sentence, an outcome and his supporters had long sought but that many Chechens and human rights activists say “spits in the face” of justice and the Chechen people.
This is the latest turn in a long-running case. In July 2003, Budanov was convicted of kidnapping and then killing Elza Kungayeva by a military district court which stripped him of his rank and medals and sentenced him to ten years behind bars. Her family members believe that he raped her as well, although the court did not find him guilty of that.
Since that time, Budanov has become a kind of hero for some Russian nationalist extremists who believe that any actions by Russian soldiers against “Chechen terrorists” are justified, and they have pressed for his release, formally appealing to the courts four times before their current success (http://newtimes.ru/teletype/2008/12/24/---204.html).
When the Dmitrovgrad court’s decision reached Grozny, family members of the murdered girl, Chechen officials and Chechens from all walks of life were outraged. They noted that Budanov had never expressed remorse for his actions and that, in any case, ten years is too short a term for someone guilty of the crimes he committed.
On December 25 and again on December 28, Chechens demonstrated in Grozny. Visa Kungayev, the father of the victim, said he was appalled by the decision especially given
Budanov’s threat to kill other members of the family on his release and planned to appeal to the Russian prosecutor general (www.islamnews.ru/news-16517.html).
Such an effort might be successful: Last Friday, Vyacheslav Lebedev, the chairman of the Russian Federation Supreme Court, said he would personally review the case if there is an appeal (www.islamnews.ru/news-16592.html). And other Chechens said they would take the case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
But regardless of whether Moscow does overrule the Dmitrovgrad court, Chechens are outraged. Among those who have taken part in the protests are members of the Chechen parliament, human rights officials, and students, who carried signs demanding that Budanov spend the rest of his life behind bars for his crimes (www.islamrf.ru/news/russia/rusnews/6443/).
One deputy told the crowd that the court’s decision not only highlighted “the selectiveness” of Russian justice but constituted “a spitting into the face of the Chechen people. And others praised members of the Kungayev family for pressing the case saying that in doing so, they had saved hundreds of other Chechen women from a similar fate.
At the end of the first meeting, the Chechens adopted a declaration saying among other things that “the crimes of Budanov committed while commander of the 160th tank regiment are evidence of the crimes of other ‘Budanovs.’ And they demanded that Russian officials “investigate the crimes committed against the civilian population of the Chechen Republic.”
An article in “Moskovsky komsomolets” shared their outrage and suggested that the court’s release of Budanov is likely to have broader consequences. For crimes like those Budanov committed, ten years behind bars are not too much, but Budanov and people like him – including apparently the court -- think that for killing a Chechen, they are “too much.”
That is a very dangerous message to send, the paper continued, because it shows that Moscow’s understanding of the nature of what has taken place in Chechnya is deeply flawed and its policy of promoting the re-integration of Chechnya into “peaceful Russian life” is “completely hypocritical” (mk.ru/blogs/MK/2008/12/25/society/388050/).
Chechnya, the paper continues, “is not only Ramzan Kadyrov, a Hero of Russia and the personal friend of Premier Putin. Chechnya also consists of hundreds of thousands of ordinary people” whom the authorities have failed to show any consideration or respect. Now, the Russian authorities had “spit in their faces,” and the Chechens will not forget that.