Russia's open display of tortured Moscow terror suspects shocks world: 'A warning to others'

Videos of torture, showing the ear of a man being sliced, had gone viral on Telegram

Untitled design - 1 Saidakrami Murodali Rachabalizoda, a suspect in the Crocus City Hall shooting on Friday, sits in a glass cage in the Basmanny District Court in Moscow. (Right) Mukhammadsobir Faizov, a suspect in Friday's shooting at the Crocus City Hall, seen heavily tortured | AP

On Sunday night, Russia paraded the four suspects of the Concert Hall terror attack in front of Moscow's Basmanny District Court. The men, all citizens of the small post-Soviet nation of Tajikistan in Central Asia, were formally charged with committing a group terrorist attack resulting in the death of others.

But, the footage of the accused being presented in the court shocked the world. All four men were heavily tortured, their faces swollen and disfigured, one missing his ears and another wheelchair-bound in his hospital gown and a catheter on his lap. 

Two days before their appearance in court, videos had circulated in Russian social media, showing one of the accused Saidakrami M. Rajabalizoda being tortured. An interrogator was seen slicing his ear before shoving it in his mouth.

Another accused Shamsidin Fariduni appeared in a photo lying on the floor of a school gym, his pants pulled down around his knees and with wires connected to his genital area. Fariduni was reportedly shocked with 80 volts and water had been poured over his body to "intensify the effect". 

Dalerdzhon Barotovich Mirzoyev was seen with a plastic bag wrapped around his neck that observers think might have been used to asphyxiate him. 

The overt display of torture drove home the message that Russia had little sympathy for the gunmen who killed 139 people. This public display of revenge, like never before, also was intended to warn off people thinking of similar attacks on Russia, believe analysts. The fact that these videos were released by nationalistic, pro-war Telegram channels, regarded close to Russia’s security services, proves that these actions had the nod of high-ranking Russian officials.

Though Russian security services are known to have employed torture against terror suspects, the videos show how much-normalised violence has become in Russia. "What is different now is the clear demonstrative nature of the torture," Tanya Lokshina, the Europe and Central Asia associate director at Human Rights Watch, told The Guardian. 

She believes that the videos were not shared by accident but "to warn others who were planning attacks on Russia that they will face the same consequences." "The Russian authorities are no longer shy about showing that its security services torture people. There are no window dressing exercises any more," Lokshina added.

Olga Sadovskaya of the Committee Against Torture, a Russian human rights organisation, too think this was intentional. "There were two intentions to circulating the videos," Sadovskaya told The New York Times. "First, to show people who could plan another terrorist attack what could happen to them, and second, to show society that there is revenge for all that people suffered in this terrorist attack."

Many experts believe the videos hint at changes in Russian society since the war on Ukraine. The society has become more militarized and tolerant of violence since the war in Ukraine began. "This is a sign of how far we have gone with accepting the new methods of conducting a war," Andrei Soldatov, an expert on Russia’s security services, told the NYT. 

The Kremlin is yet to respond to allegations that the men had been tortured.


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