A researcher for Amnesty International was abducted and tortured in southern Russia earlier this month, the organization reported on Monday.
The researcher, Oleg Kozlovsky, 34, said he was abducted on October 6 in Ingushetia, a majority-Muslim region around 1,500 kilometers (932 miles) south of Moscow. Kozlovsky said his abductors drove him to a field, held a gun to his head, forced him to strip, beat him, and tried to coerce him to work for the “anti-extremism” forces.
The abductors wore dark baseball caps and medical masks and did not identify themselves, he said. According to Amnesty, the assailants identified themselves to Kozlovsky as “officers of the local Center for Combating Extremism,” a special police unit.
Kozlovsky had gone to the Ingushetian capital of Magas on October 5 to research freedom of assembly in the context of the protests against a land swap with Chechnya. The following evening, a man knocked on the door of his hotel room in Magas and told him a protest leader wanted to speak to him, according to Amnesty.
Kozlovsky says he was then led to a car and once inside, he was joined by two men who took his cellphone and started hitting him and asking him who he was and what he was doing.
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Later he was taken to a field and told to lie down with his hands behind his back, and that he would be shot if he tried to run. They staged two mock executions. An object was pressed against his hands, causing him to suspect they might try to frame him for drug or weapons possession, he said.
The men then made him strip, photographed him, and threatened to publish the photos unless he agreed to work for the anti-extremism police. After he refused, they tried to ensure he’d stay silent, he said.
“They again put me on the ground, again put the gun to the back of my head, and told me to pray. And then they told me that if I tell anyone about all this, they’ll kill my children,” he said. He agreed to keep quiet.
They then returned his possessions, except his phone and camera and drove him, via his hotel, to an airport complaining about how hard it was to tackle extremism. He flew back to Moscow the next day with a fractured rib.
“I am sure that if they want to, Russian authorities could find them,” he said of his abductors. “Of course I don’t know if there is such a desire.”
According to Amnesty, after failing to force him to agree to be their informant, the attackers confiscated Kozlovsky’s phone and camera, then drove him to the neighboring Republic of North Ossetia and released him near an airport. Before being released he was told by one of them, “Never come back and don’t write filth about Ingushetia.”
Kozlovsky, however, says he will not “be bullied into silence. It’s imperative that the world knows the risks that human rights defenders and activists face in Russia.”
On October 9 Kozlovsky filed a complaint with the Russian authorities. He has not received any response yet.