Russia torture accuser disappears: rights groups

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A man who has publicly accused soldiers loyal to Chechnya’s President Ramzan Kadyrov of abducting and torturing him has disappeared in the southern Russian republic, human rights groups said on Wednesday.

Mukhamadsalakh Masayev had spoken to rights groups and given an interview to the Novaya Gazeta newspaper last month in which he said Kadyrov’s soldiers of seized him in 2006. He planned to bring a legal action against them.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said witnesses had seen camouflaged men stop Masayev in central Grozny on Sunday and pull him into their car.

He has not been seen or heard of since, HRW said in a letter to Grozny’s Prosecutor-General on Wednesday.

“Given the publicity the case has received in the media and that the accusations are directly linked to the leadership of the republic, we believe his disappearance on August 3 2008 may be due to his efforts to push for an investigation and he may now be in physical danger,” HRW wrote in the letter seen by Reuters.

The Russian human rights group Memorial also confirmed Masayev’s disappearance.

Kadyrov, 31, plays a key role in the Kremlin’s strategy for bringing stability to Chechnya, where Russian forces have fought rebels in two wars since 1994. In return for power and Kremlin support, the former rebel Kadyrov and his soldiers fight insurgents hiding in the Caucasus mountains.

Kadyrov has always denied accusations from human rights groups that his soldiers kidnap and torture their enemies.

In the Novaya Gazeta article dated July 10, Masayev described how armed men detained him in the Chechen town of Gudermes in 2006 and then drove him and two supporters to a base where they held them from September 28 - January 21 2007.

They were held in an old bus, beaten and subjected to a mock execution, Masayev told the Novaya Gazeta newspaper.

“We were not even told why we were kept hostages, they only humiliated us,” he wrote.

Masayev said Kadyrov visited him but had not beaten or tortured him.

“Kadyrov extended his foot as if he wanted us to lick it and to ask for mercy,” he said.

The interview was a rare public accusation against Kadyrov and his soldiers.

Masayev, a native of Chechnya who lived in Moscow, told human rights groups that Kadyrov’s soldiers had abducted him because he preached Salafism -- a conservative form of Islam linked to the strict Wahhabism strand from Saudi Arabia.

Chechnya is a republic of about 1 million on the southern fringe of Russia which has traditionally practiced the Sufism more mystical form of Islam.

Editing by Angus MacSwan