| Actress Vanessa Redgrave with Chechen rebel leader Akhmed Zakayev in London. (Reuters)
London, Nov. 13 (Reuters): A British judge delivered a scathing indictment of Russia’s criminal justice system today, rejecting a bid to extradite a Chechen rebel leader and provoking the wrath of the Kremlin.
After months of hearings at London’s Bow Street Magistrates’ Court, judge Timothy Workman said he was convinced there was a “substantial risk” Moscow would torture Akhmed Zakayev if he were sent there for trial.
“It would be unjust and oppressive to return Zakayev to stand his trial in Russia,” he said.
The Kremlin said Workman’s decision amounted to an “attempt to justify terrorism”.
Russia had sought to extradite Zakayev on 13 charges including murder and kidnapping. The charges date from the first of two wars in the breakaway region from 1994-96, but in years since, Zakayev became the chief Chechen peace negotiator, meeting Russian officials in Moscow as recently as 2001.
Workman said he believed Moscow sought the extradition to “exclude him from continuing to take part in the peace process and to discredit him as a moderate”.
He said he had concluded that fighting in Chechnya — where Russian tactics included carpet bombing the regional capital Grozny — was a war, not an “anti-terrorism operation”. Tens of thousands of people have died in two wars there over the last nine years.
Most damagingly of all, Workman said he believed a witness who testified he had been held in a pit and tortured for six days — including with electric shocks — to provide the Russians with a statement they had used against Zakayev.