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What has become of us?

| Wednesday, April 5, 2006

MOSCOW

We are using Stalin's methods again, this time to fight terrorism. I write here on a subject that one can no longer write about in Russia -- islamskiy terrorizm , or Islamic terrorism cases.

There are hundreds of such cases going through the courts in our country. Most have been fabricated by the government so that the special services can demonstrate how "effective" Russia is in fighting terrorism and so President Vladimir Putin has something with which to impress the West.

Close examination of these cases shows that many interrogation records have been tampered with and that the documents containing "honest confessions" were obtained through the torture of innocent suspects who are being punished for the crimes of Chechen separatist Shamil Basayev.

Here's one example: Recently two young college students from the Chechen capital of Grozny -- Musa Lomayev and Mikhail Vladovskikh -- were accused by the police and the prosecutor's office of all small, previously unsolved acts of terrorism that had occurred about six months before in one of Grozny's residential areas.

As a result, Vladovskikh is now severely disabled: Both his legs were broken under torture; his kneecaps were shattered; his kidneys badly damaged by beating; his genitalia mutilated; his eyesight lost; his eardrums torn; and all of his front teeth sawed off. That is how he appeared before the court.

To get Lomayev to sign -- and he did sign confessions for five acts of terrorism -- they inserted electrical wires in his anus and applied current. He would lose consciousness and they would pour water on him, show him the wires again, turn him around backward -- and he would sign confessions that he belonged to a gang with Vladovskikh.

This despite the fact that the two defendants were first introduced to one another by their prison torturers.

This is how we create our "Islamic terrorists" -- but we are no longer allowed to write openly about it in Russia. It is forbidden for the press to express sympathy with those sentenced for "terrorism" even if a judicial mistake is suspected.

During the perestroika years we fought so persistently for the right to appeal and the right for clemency, knowing how many judicial mistakes are made in the country, and a special state committee on pardons was established. Now, under Putin, the committee has been disbanded, executions have been tacitly restored and judicial mistakes are again viewed as permissible and tolerable.

The flow of "Islamic terrorism" cases has engulfed hundreds of innocent people, while Basayev continues to walk free. And there is no end in sight.

The plight of those sentenced for "Islamic terrorism" today is the same as that of the political prisoners of the Gulag Archipelago. They receive long terms -- 18 to 25 years in strict security camps in Siberian swamps and woods with virtually all communication with the outside forbidden. Russia continues to be infected by Stalinism. But it seems that the rest of the world has been infected along with it -- a world shrunken and frightened before the threat of terrorism.

I recall the words of one torture victim at his trial: "What will become of me• How will I be able to live in this country if you sentence me to such a long prison term for a crime that I did not commit and without any proof of my guilt?"

He never received an answer to his question. Indeed, what will become of all the rest of us, who tolerate this?

What has become of us already?

Anna Politkovskaya is a special correspondent for Novaya Gazeta newspaper and the recipient of the 2005 Civil Courage Prize.

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