Saturday, January 06, 2007

The FSB in a Positive Light

At Prague Watchdog, a report which shows the FSB in Chechnya for once in a positive light, reforming itself:

Practice of extortion at „Kavkaz“ checkpoint stops

By Umalt Chadayev

CHECHNYA – Renewed bribery at the sadly well-known „Kavkaz“ checkpoint located on the administrative border between Chechnya and Ingushetia has stopped again after the Federal Security Service (FSB) intervened.

„Ever since the very beginning of the war, the „Kavkaz“ checkpoint has been notorious for its policemen collecting exorbitant tribute from people wishing to pass through it. A self-styled „tariff“ of fees ranging from 10 to 50 roubles was even developed. The practice had continued almost until this past summer when policemen, apparently from the Kirov region, were deployed at the checkpoint. At that moment everything changed and the bribe-taking stopped. „They‘ve even hung up a notice warning that an attempt to offer a bribe is a criminal offence,“ says Souleiman, a 47-year-old mini-bus driver from Grozny.

„However, these guys were replaced in October. Policemen from Kursk who used to serve here at the very beginning of the war arrived, and it all started again. They demanded a fee from mini-bus drivers as well as from any vehicle passing through the checkpoint. The absence of a military registration stamp in an identity document "cost" 20-50 roubles. Of course, people tried to protest and refused to pay, but the policemen had their „methods of coercion“. For example, they could block the road, thus creating a column several kilometers long, and then let vehicles through at a rate of one or two an hour,“ Souleiman says.

„We (mini-bus drivers) were even forced to make a detour round this checkpoint through the village of Sernovodsk in Chechnya's Sunzhensky district. Repeated complaints were sent to the Prosecutor's Office, to the Russian Interior Ministry and so on. And finally last week our efforts brought results. Representatives of the Federal Security Service (FSB) arrived at the checkpoint and made an inspection. Then one of their officers remained there on duty for several days, warning each driver against paying any bribes to the policemen and saying that if the policemen create artificial problems, we have a perfect right to drive through without stopping, and so on. A notice was posted up with a telephone number which one can call if problems arise. Now everything is back to normal. No one is demanding bribes and everyone is working as they’re supposed to,“ says the mini-bus driver.

According to an unnamed human rights defender, the main reason for the bribe-taking is the juridical illiteracy of the local population. „People are so tired of it all that they‘re ready to pay 50 or 100 roubles if that will get them where they need to be more quickly. It’s most likely a peculiar war syndrome from the early years of the so-called „counter-terrorist operation“, during which law enforcers at checkpoints arbitrarily detained people and subjected them to torture and insults. Some people disappeared without trace, while others were freed for ransom. Even now Chechen residents fear and distrust law enforcers, seeing them more as a source of possible danger than as representatives of law and order who are summoned to defend their rights,“ he is convinced.

„Residents of Chechnya, especially the young, have only a very faint notion of their rights and duties. They don't know, for example, that policemen checking their documents must first of all introduce themselves. Or that the absence of a military registration stamp in one's identity document is not a crime. Or that no one has the right to detain people at checkpoints without sticking to certain law procedures and so on. And unscrupulous policemen make use of this,“ said the human rights defender.

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