|Mulkoev (left) and Alkhanov disappeared
on February 16, ten days after being
acquitted by the Georgian court.
Mysterious disappearance of two Chechens in Georgia and later reports regarding their arrest by the Russian security forces, increased Chechen community’s fears in Georgia that Tbilisi secretly apprehended their compatriots and handed them over to Moscow.
Russian media reported on February 25 that the Russian Federal Security Service detained two Chechens – Bekkhan Mulkoev and Husein Alkhanov, at the Georgian-Russian border on February 19, while trying to cross Larsi border checkpoint. Russia claims both, Mulkoev and Alkhanov, are the Chechen militants, which fought against the Federal Troops in Chechnya.
Bekkhan Mulkoev and Husein Alkhanov are those two Chechens, which disappeared in Georgia after being acquitted by a Tbilisi court on February 6 of having violated border regulations and entered Georgia illegally.
Two Chechens were among a group of 13 Chechens arrested by the Georgian border guards in the late summer of 2002, five of whom were forcibly extradited to Russia. However, Mulkoev and Alkhanov survived extradition due to the successful court procedures in Georgia.
Following 7 months of the court procedures, the Supreme Court of Georgia ruled to decline extradition of Bekkhan Mulkoev and Husein Alkhanov to the Russian Federation last May.
Nevertheless, they were not released as the Georgian law enforcers were accusing them of illegal crossing of the border and carrying firearms. However, the court acquitted them on February 6 2004 and were released after year and half of detention in Georgia.
A group of Chechen refugees living in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge staged a demonstration on February 18 to protest the disappearances of two Chechens, Bekkhan Mulkoev and Husein Alkhanov.
The relatives of the two men acquitted feared they have been abducted and secretly handed over to Russia by the Georgian authorities. After the report regarding their detention, doubts over the alleged secret extradition increased.
However, officials in Georgia deny speculations, while others prefer to keep silence.
“I do not know anything about it. And I can not make any comment regarding the case,” Nika Laliashvili, a spokesman for the Georgian Security Ministry told Civil Georgia.
Georgian General Prosecutor’s Office makes the similar comment. “We only know that two Chechens were arrested by Russians at the border. We know this from the newswires of the Russia media,” Paata Mskhiladze, who is in charge of foreign relations and extradition issues of the General Prosecutor’s Office, told Civil Georgia.
Malkhaz Pataraia, who was a lawyer of two Chechens during the protracted court procedures, also told Civil Georgia that he “can not comment regarding the issue” as he is “not aware of latest developments concerning these Chechens.” Another lawyer Lia Mukhashavria also prefers not to comment.
Khizri Aldamov, who is one of the leaders of the Chechen community in Georgia and led de facto representation of the Chechen Republic in Tbilisi, was the only one who agreed to talk. He is sure that Georgia has extradited two Chechens to Russia.
“The story about their detention at the border is absurd. No one would believe that they [Bekkhan Mulkoev and Husein Alkhanov] went to the Russian border themselves. They did not intend to leave Georgia,” Khizri Aldamov told Civil Georgia.
The Chechen community in Georgia has already sent a letter to the Georgian President, Secretary of the National Security Council and the leadership of the law enforcement agencies and requested to investigate the case. However, Chechens have little hope that their concerns would be heard by the authorities.
Chechen refugees living in Georgia’s Pankisi gorge fear that recent conciliatory stance between Moscow and Tbilisi that took place after Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s visit to Russia in February, might threaten their security. “Tbilisi now tries to please Moscow,” Aldamov said.
Mysterious story of two Chechens coincided with the arrival of the delegation of the European Court for Human Rights (ECHR) in Georgia, which paid a fact-finding visit to Tbilisi to study the cases of 13 Chechens.
After a hearing on 16 September 2003, the ECHR declared admissible the application lodged by 13 Chechens, which claim that extradition of five compatriots was illegal.
Khizri Aldamov says that Chechen community in Georgia failed to find out the whereabouts of five Chechens, which were extradited to Russia, despite many attempts. “I think they are dead,” Aldamov says.
The ECHR delegation, which left for Russia after visiting Georgia for further inquiry, was informed regarding the disappearance of Mulkoev and Husein Alkhanov.
Disappearance of two Chechens was not a first case in Georgia. On February 12, 2003 Chechen refugee Adam Talalov disappeared after leaving his home in the Pankisi gorge. His whereabouts remain unknown yet.
The whereabouts of Chechen refugee Hussein Yusupov, who disappeared in 2002 after allegedly being released from a Security Ministry’s detention facility, remained unknown, and there were no developments in the case so far.