NALCHIK -- Scientists in the Kabardino-Balkarian Republic (KBR) had their belongings returned to them after law enforcement conducted searches, but no explanations were given for the reason behind the searches.
Zaur Shokuev, a lawyer, has alleged that the actions of law enforcement appear to be illegal persecutions.
On November 18, 2022, human rights defenders in KBR called on the head of the republic, Kazbek Kokov, to prevent the persecution of scientists from the Institute for Humanitarian Studies of the KBR's Scientific Centre of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) who are attempting to uncover the true history and defend the native languages of the Northern Caucasus. The appeal was supported by local activists and scientists.
On December 1, 2022, representatives of the Circassian diaspora in Turkey also appealed to Kazbek Kokov to stop the persecution of scientists. The Ministry of Education and Science of Kabardino-Balkaria denied the allegations, stating that the information provided by the appeal of the Circassian diaspora is unreliable. Human rights activist Valery Khatazhukov also disputed the reliability of the ministry's response.
Human rights defenders have expressed concern over searches conducted at the Institute for Humanitarian Studies of the KBR's Scientific Centre of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS), and have noted a campaign against the institute's employees on social media.
The public pressure has led to the return of seized belongings to the scientists, according to Valery Khatazhukov, the chairman of the KBR Centre. He added that Aslan Mirzoev, a candidate of historical sciences and long-time employee of the institute, resigned from the Centre due to pressure and left. Khatazhukov explained that the scientists who were searched were raising issues of Circassians' cultural identity and the challenges of teaching mother tongues.
He believes that the pressure from law enforcement is related to their criticism of amendments to the federal law on education, which made the learning of mother tongues optional.
Valery Khatazhukov has stated that the processes that may lead to the abolition of national republics are not in Russia's best interest. He also noted that the North Caucasian diaspora is outraged by the pressure on scientists, including the case in Dagestan and the destruction of the institute, which is linked to the potential liquidation of republics. He believes that the pressure is the result of narrow departmental goals, and ultimately undermines the foundations of Russia.
Timur Aloev, a senior researcher at the Institute for Humanitarian Research of the Kabardino-Balkarian Scientific Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences and Ph.D. in History, confirmed that a search was conducted at his workplace and home and that everything seized a month and a half ago was returned.
According to Timur Aloev, a senior researcher at the Institute for Humanitarian Research of the Kabardino-Balkarian Scientific Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences and Ph.D. in History, there is no criminal case against him. He believes that the searches were a "preventive" measure and did not require the assistance of a lawyer.
Aloev noted that the seizure of his gadgets and handwritten materials caused difficulties in the preparation of his annual report, but he is glad that they have been returned. Aloev, who is a historian, did not take part in the compilation of a dictionary, but like other scientists, he participated in the movement to protect native languages. He has been studying the history of Circassia for 20 years and recently started to study the linguistic aspect of discrimination in the study of native languages, due to the recent proposed and adopted amendments. He believes that the actions of the security forces are very clear and does not require further hypotheses or substantiation.
According to Professor Kasbolat Dzamikhov, the Director of the IGI KBNTs RAS, there is no danger to the Institute's continuation. He stated that the Institute has not been closed or discussed for closing, however laws now allow for inspections and searches to be conducted in any room of the Institute, including staff's homes, though there is no criminal case at present. All materials seized during the inspections have been returned and the Institute continues to operate. Dzamikhov believes there has been a miscommunication, and that the excitement around inspections is causing harm to the Institute's reputation by spreading rumors of closure. He also emphasized that the Institute's work is transparent and that their books and publications are available for public examination and that there have been regular exhibitions, such as one dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the republic held in the Parliament of Kabardino-Balkaria.
At the same time, the Director of the Institute acknowledged that some scientists' public positions may not be accepted by security forces. Dzamikhov stated that while these issues should be discussed, it should be done in a calm and rational manner, and not emotionally.
Zaur Shokuev, a lawyer with the Kabardino-Balkarian Regional Human Rights Center confirmed that there are no criminal or administrative cases against current or former employees of the Institute. He added that the Ministry of Education of Kabardino-Balkaria had requested information and it was stated that a number of scientists whose houses were searched had allegedly participated in an event organized by an organization that was deemed undesirable or unreliable in the Russian Federation, but this information was found to be untrue.
The lawyer, Zaur Shokuev, considers the actions of the security forces as an unlawful, unjustified harassment of scientists and employees of the academic institute. He stated that it is unclear if there were warrants specifically for a search and that office equipment, gadgets, and manuscripts have all been returned, and no criminal case has been opened and there have been no legal proceedings. He emphasized that it is important to challenge the actions of the security forces and that the scientists have the right to know whether there were legal grounds for the check and what its results were, as the seized items were kept for more than a month.