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Let Mr Zakayev Stay

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Let Mr Zakayev stay

Chechen leader should not be extradited

Leader

Friday December 13, 2002

The Guardian

Russia's attempt to extradite Chechen leader Akhmed Zakayev from Britain is without merit and should be rejected by the home secretary. The case against Mr Zakayev was examined in detail by the Danish justice ministry after he was detained on an international warrant in Copenhagen in October. Moscow's initial charges of armed rebellion were then expanded to include terrorism, hostage-taking, murder and robbery. But after a meticulous inquiry, the Danes were unconvinced and set Mr Zakayev free.

They noted that witness statements had been taken after the warrant was issued and in some cases up to seven years after the alleged offences occurred. They said it was unclear what if any role Mr Zakayev had played in specified incidents and that some testimony "lacked precision" and appeared to be based on hearsay. Russia supplied no evidence to support claims that the accused was involved in planning the Moscow theatre siege that began on October 23. Although it did not explicitly say so, the Danish government may also, quite properly, have given credence to Mr Zakayev's contention that, if returned to Moscow, he would be unlikely to receive a fair trial and could, like many ordinary Chechens, face ill-treatment or even torture.

That Mr Zakayev once fought against Russian federal forces in Chechnya is not disputed. But that his prosecution is a primarily political, not legal or security matter is equally indisputable. His real offence is to have become a persuasive champion of non-violent Chechen self-determination in defiance of Russia's attempts to impose a settlement and of Chechen extremism. President Vladimir Putin now refuses point-blank to talk to Chechnya's elected leaders and is devising a new, made-in-Moscow constitution. Such myopic subterfuge is doomed to failure. While there is grievouthe Danes were unconvinced and set Mr Zakayev free.

They noted that witness statements had been taken after the warrant was issued and in some cases up to seven years after the alleged offences occurred. They said it was unclear what if any role Mr Zakayev had played in specified incidents and that some testimony "lacked precision" and appeared to be based on hearsay. Russia supplied no evidence to support claims that the accused was involved in planning the Moscow theatre siege that began on October 23. Although it did not explicitly say so, the Danish government may also, quite properly, have given credence to Mr Zakayev's contention that, if returned to Moscow, he would be unlikely to receive a fair trial and could, like many ordinary Chechens, face ill-treatment or even torture.

That Mr Zakayev once fought against Russian federal forces in Chechnya is not disputed. But that his prosecution is a primarily political, not legal or security matter is equally indisputable. His real offence is to have become a persuasive champion of non-violent Chechen self-determination in defiance of Russia's attempts to impose a settlement and of Chechen extremism. President Vladimir Putin now refuses point-blank to talk to Chechnya's elected leaders and is devising a new, made-in-Moscow constitution. Such myopic subterfuge is doomed to failure. While there is grievous fault on both sides, the onus is on Mr Putin to play a more constructive role. Failure to do so damages Russia's wider interests.

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