23 March 2011 – The Belgian media has reported that the Justice Minister of Belgium has signed an extradition decision for a Chechen refugee, allowing him to be sent back to Russia. However, Pax Christi Flanders, Amnesty International and Russian human rights organization “Memorial” are against the extradition.
According to the news, in 1999-2000, Arbi Zarmaev fought in the Chechen resistance against the Russian invasion. After he returned to civil life, but when the Russians learned that he was a former fighter, they tried to kill him. Then, in 2002, he ran from Chechnya to Belgium. He was granted refugee status there soon after. After he received the status, he married and had two children in Belgium. In December 2008, he was arrested by Belgian police in Oostende on suspicion of a crime, but Zarmaev has denied all of the allegations. Since then, he has been in prison in the city of Hasselt. On March 8, Stefaan De Clerck, the Belgian Justice Minister, signed a document ordering his extradition from Belgium to Russia at the request of Russian authorities.
However, human rights organizations like Pax Christi Flanders, Amnesty International and Memorial are strongly against the decision. On March 14th, two lawyers, Paul Bekaert and Thomas Gillis, delivered a petition to the State Council for a suspension of the extradition.
“If this decision stands, it will bring immediate danger to the life of the individual. It is in violation of the European Convention of Human Rights,” said Jo Hanssens, Chairman of Pax Christi Flanders,
Jo Hanssens also drew attention to the decisions on Chechnya from the European Court of Human Rights where Russia has been repeatedly condemned for human rights violations. He said that it is an illusion to believe that Russia will comply with human rights. “According to the independent NGOs, there are more than 25,000 Chechen prisoners. We have numerous reports and testimonies from Chechen prisoners who were tortured and humiliated during interrogation, custody and later while they were serving their sentences. The chances of a fair trial for Zarmaev are virtually nonexistent,” said Jo Hanssens.
Andi Zarmaev, brother of the Chechen prisoner, said that he recently visited his brother and it turned out that Arbi was kept in isolation for nine days. The Belgian authorities claim that it was a disciplinary sanction due to an incident between Arbi and the prison guards. But Arbi’s brother believes that it was a request from Russia.
On the other hand, Jan Boeykens, the President of Werkgroep Morkhoven Association has published a press statement. According to the press-release, on March 22nd, they tried to hold a demonstration in front of the European Parliament building in Brussels together with 40 Chechens. But, their action was shut down immediately. All the protesters were surrounded by police and obliged to give them their identity cards. The police also destroyed a banner with the words: “Freedom to Arbi!”. Jan Boeykens pointed out that if Arbi, who was granted political refugee status and weighs 50kg at the moment, dies in prison due to torture and exhaustion, the Justice Minister Stefaan De Clerck will be personally liable.
*Text was translated by Waynakh Online and edited by Michael Capobianco