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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 June, 2003, 15:21 GMT 16:21 UK
Don't hand Chechen over, UK urged
Mr Zakayev at a news conference in 2002
Chechen Akhmed Zakayev 'will not get a fair trial in Russia'
A Chechen diplomat could be killed if he is sent to Russia to face trial on murder and terror charges, a UK extradition hearing has been told.

Akhmed Zakayev, 44, is wanted by the Russian Government to face 13 charges over crimes allegedly committed in Chechnya between 1995 and 2000.

The charges - all of which he denies - range from waging war against Moscow to carrying out a series of murders and abductions.

Experts called by his defence told the hearing at Bow Street Magistrates Court that Mr Zakayev could not receive a fair trial in Russia.

The Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov has publicly compared Zakayev to Osama bin Laden
Analyst Thomas de Waal

Thomas de Waal, a writer and analyst on Chechnya, told Tuesday's hearing that what he described as Mr Zakayev's moderate stance could no longer be tolerated by the Russian authorities.

Russia officials had got tougher in the wake of the Moscow theatre siege in October 2002, in which dozens of people died, he said.

"The embryonic peace process died in the womb as it were," he told the court.

"To have someone like Mr Zakayev going round the European capitals putting the moderate view for the Chechnyans... it was impeding the new political agenda.

"[What you do] is neutralise the envoy and arrest and extradite him."

'Political' motive

Mr de Waal said he found it "hard to believe" Zakayev would receive a fair trial if sent back to Russia.

"This case has enormous notoriety in Russia," he said.

If Mr Zakayev were to be returned [to Russia] then at a minimum he would be tortured and at worst he would not survive
Justin Knowles, junior defence counsel

"The Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov has publicly compared Zakayev to Osama bin Laden."

Dr John Russell, head of languages and European studies at the University of Bradford, said there were "very serious concerns" about Zakayev's possible return to Russia.

He said: "There are very genuine concerns - not just for human rights groups but for any free-thinking individual."

Mr Zakayev had been arrested in Denmark on Russia's request soon after the Moscow theatre siege, Dr Russell pointed out, which he said "smacks of political opportunism".

Torture 'minimum'

Justin Knowles, junior defence counsel, read from several human rights reports which detailed acts of brutality on the part of the Russian authorities towards Chechens.

He said: "We say it is clear beyond a shadow of doubt that if Mr Zakayev were to be returned [to Russia] then at a minimum he would be tortured and at worst he would not survive."

Mr Zakayev was a high-profile figure in the Chechen struggle for independence from Moscow.

The top negotiator of the last elected Chechen government, he had been acting as an international envoy for Chechen separatists before his arrest.

His original detention in Denmark ended when Danish authorities ruled that Russia had provided insufficient evidence to warrant his extradition, and released him.

He was arrested again at Heathrow Airport in December 2002 after arriving from Denmark following the failed extradition attempt.




SEE ALSO:
Zakayev: Key Chechen figure
06 Dec 02  |  Europe
UK actress defends Chechen rebel
06 Dec 02  |  Europe
Denmark frees top Chechen envoy
03 Dec 02  |  Europe


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