MOSCOW – The leader of Russia's Chechnya has vowed to bar human rights activists from visiting his region once the trial of a prominent activist wraps up.
Speaking at a meeting with law enforcement officials in a video released on Thursday, Ramzan Kadyrov vowed to make Chechnya a "no-go zone" for human rights activists, whom he compared to "terrorists and extremists" and accused of "harming Chechnya" on the orders of the West.
Kadyrov, who has been barred from visiting the United States and Europe, said he will impose similar travel bans on "everything and everyone who stands in the way of a peaceful life of our people."
Many international human rights activists who had been unable to work in Chechnya because of constant threats and intimidation have been visiting the region this year to attend the trial of local human rights advocate Oyub Titiyev, who has been charged with drugs possession. Titiyev's supporters dismiss the charges against him as a political vendetta, while Kadyrov has been calling him "a drug addict."
Not a single human rights activist will be allowed into Chechnya once the trial wraps up, Kadyrov said, adding that members of the rights groups "have no right to set foot on my land."
Kadyrov's comments come just days after the predominantly Muslim region was rattled by a series of attacks by five teenage militants who targeted police officers. The Kremlin has relied on Kadyrov, who has trampled out all dissent in that region, to keep Chechnya in check after two separatist wars there in the 1990s.
Kadyrov has ruled Chechnya since the 2004 assassination of his father, a separatist leader who switched sides to support the Russian government after two devastating wars in the 1990s. In the past decade, Kadyrov's opponents have been killed or driven into exile; disappearances and extrajudicial killings have become mundane; families of suspected militants have been forced to leave Chechnya; and their houses have been burnt down.
Last year, activists documented a broad crackdown on gay people in Chechnya in which at least 100 suspected gay men were round up and tortured and at least three were killed. A federal investigation found no proof of those reports while Kadyrov insisted that there were no gay people in Chechnya at all.
Tanya Lokshina, associate director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch, on Friday called Kadyrov's statement "vicious" and noted that the Kremlin could always stop Kadyrov if it wanted to.
Lokshina told The Associated Press that the rights activists were allowed to travel to Titiyev's trial on Kremlin orders — "this also means that the Kremlin can make it clear to Kadyrov that human rights defenders should be able to work there anytime, safely, which is precisely what it should do, including by ensuring Titiyev's immediate release."
The Kremlin on Friday sought to play down Kadyrov's statement, saying that it may have been "taken out of context."
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Friday that he is convinced that Kadyrov's comments "cannot be about all human rights activists" and added that many rights advocates "do a very important job."