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Chechen Strongman Claims the West Sanctioned Him for Protecting Muslim Rights

Vladimir Putin and Ramzan Kadyrov
Vladimir Putin and Ramzan Kadyrov
Ramzan Kadyrov

Ramzan Kadyrov

Head of Chechen Republic

“I am on every existing sanctions list in the world, and I cannot travel anywhere. Why? Only because I am defending the rights of Muslims. Their morals, customs, traditions – that is the only reason I am on these lists, nothing else.”

Kadyrov was sanctioned for gross violations of human rights – not for his religion.

On August 17, Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of the Chechen Republic in Russia’s North Caucasus, spoke with the prominent Dagestani journalist and Muslim activist Ruslan Kurbanov in his residence near Grozny. Kadyrov complained the only reason he was on international sanctions lists was his advocacy for the rights of Muslims, and “nothing else.”

That claim is false.

The United States imposed financial and travel sanctions against Ramzan Kadyrov on December 20, 2017 “for being responsible for extrajudicial killing, torture, or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.”

“As the head of the Chechen Republic, Kadyrov oversees an administration involved in disappearances and extra-judicial killings. One of Kadyrov’s political opponents was believed to have been murdered at Kadyrov’s direction after making allegations of torture and ill-treatment taking place in Chechnya, including alleged torture carried out by Kadyrov personally,” the U.S. Treasury said.

The European Union sanctioned Kadyrov in July 2014 for “publicly supporting violations of Ukrainian sovereignty” through his support for Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula.

While Kadyrov has not explained how he is “defending the rights of Muslims,” his aspirations of being perceived as the leader and protector of Muslims in Russia has long been documented, prompting criticism from both experts and many Islamic clerics.

The two most widely reported instances when Ramzan Kadyrov spoke on behalf of the Russian Ummah (Islamic community) were when condemning the French magazine Charlie Hebdo’s publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed and more recently, the treatment of Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingya minority. On both occasions Kadyrov organized mass protests in Chechnya “that might foster perceptions of him as the protector of oppressed Muslims,” RFE/RL Caucasus expert Liz Fuller wrote.

“While Kadyrov enjoys posing as the defender of oppressed Sunni Muslims worldwide, his chances of being formally recognized as such, let alone ever being empowered to act in that capacity, are minimal, because many prominent and respected Muslim theologians consider him a heretic, even though they may not necessarily say so publicly,” Fuller concluded.

Kadyrov’s claim of being blacklisted by the West for his protection of the rights of the Muslims is therefore not credible, while his record of human rights atrocities is decades-long and well-documented.

Kadyrov stands accused of committing human rights atrocities “so widespread and systematic, that they constitute crimes against humanity,” said a 2006 report from the New York-based NGO Human Rights Watch.

Apart from the long list of atrocities, including forced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, torture in secret prisons, gay purges, intimidation, and public humiliation, Kadyrov’s name is affiliated with numerous political assassinations – including journalist Anna Politkovskaya, human rights activist Natalia Estemirova, and opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.

In September 2017, a Swedish-based Islamic NGO, “Chechen Charitable Association Veyfond” posted a video statement on YouTube accusing Kadyrov of ordering the kidnapping a family of five, including women and children, followed by the kidnapping of two young women – all within two weeks. Vayfond said Kadyrov-orchestrated mass protests for Muslim rights were “hypocrisy”, calling the Chechen strongman “the murderer of Muslims.”