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Investigator: Russian Authorities Stymie Independent Probes Of Terrorist Attacks

(Washington, DC-July 13, 2006) The Russian state and security organs are impeding non-official investigations by citizens and civic groups of acts of terror in Russia, according to NGO leaders working in Russia. Marina Litvinovich, chair of the Moscow-based Aid to Victims of Terror Foundation, told a RFE/RL audience last week that the government has "humiliated and applied immense pressure to survivors and judges" as it tries to "control and prevent the truth about the terrorist attacks."

"In the aftermath of terrorist attacks," Litvinovich said, the Russian government attempts to suppress evidence which could raise charges of the Russian government's culpability for civilian casualties and suffering during the Beslan siege, the Nord-Ost theater attack, and the mass poisoning of over a hundred Chechen school children in March 2006. The government employs "intimidation techniques" against the survivors of terrorist attacks, sometimes issuing threats, other times offering bribes, including "the offering of apartments and jobs for silence," said Litvinovich, as well as "splintering" victim's associations such as the "Mothers of Beslan." Litvinovich believes that the Russian government is engaged in "state terrorism," which she defines as "the actions of the government when it knowingly kills its own people."

Journalists, independent investigators, and figures in the judicial system are subject to attacks, threats, and the broadcasting of "humiliating information on state-controlled media outlets," Litvinovich said, who asserted that the recent beatings of both her and her co-investigator in Moscow were "related to their independent investigations." According to Litvinovich, "concealing of evidence" and "falsification of witness testimony" is accompanied by coercive measures against judges, which has resulted in the courts' "rejection of 95 percent of motions intended to summon witnesses" in the Beslan investigation, for instance.

By re-enacting the Beslan attack and gathering the testimony of local witnesses, Litvinovich's organization has found several major contradictions and inconsistencies in the conclusions of the official government investigation. Litvinovich says that, based on the "testimony of the hostages" and evidence collected at the scene, "the first shots were fired by Russian troops," particularly a "grenade launcher found on the roof of building number 37" and a "casing of a flamethrower" that "ignited the roof of the gymnasium." According to Litvinovich, "the [terrorists'] bombs did not explode." She said "80 percent of the hostages were killed by actions of Russian troops" because most were burned in the ensuing fire, and also because there "was no medical assistance" for the victims. While the government report asserted that the terrorists were motivated by material gain, Litvinovich says all of her collected evidence -- including a note from the terrorists given to a negotiator on the scene -- indicated that "all demands were of a political nature, exclusively political."