Torture Victim and Chechen Refugee: Musa
Finland’s public broadcaster, YLE shared Finnish director Mervi Junkkonen’s documentary film, “After Life – Four Stories of Torture“, which is an excruciating, maddening, and beautiful plea in defense of torture victims. One of the film’s main characters is Musa, who escaped the brutal Russian invasion of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria.
On February 13, 2012, the Finnish webmagazine “Fifi” conducted an interview with Musa. He hopes that viewers of the film appreciate the importance of freedom and understand that the conflict in Chechnya is not over.
We present to you Jussi Förbom’s article with translation by Kerkko Paananen:
“When they take you in for interrogation at night, they pull a plastic bag over your head and three or four men keep asking the same question over and over. They hit you over the head, sometimes give you electric shock, and then tighten the plastic bag around your head again. You have to think about what you are going to say because you have to say something. And then, when you are taken back to your cell, you think about what you said; what they made you say. Then you get the feeling that you are nowhere safe.”
The speaker is a Chechen named Musa, one of the main characters in the film, After Life. We are sitting in a café in Helsinki with the film’s director, Mervi Junkkonen and interpreter Matti Mäki. Musa is speaking calmly, effortlessly, and analytically. Yet, is is hard to sit and listen.
“I am lucky to have gotten out of that meat grinder with my life. The people who tortured me, and who continue to torture others, were absolutely confident that no one would escape from their clutches alive and therefore, they would not recieve any punishment for their actions. I should not be here telling you what I have been through,” Musa says.
Musa received asylum in another European country, and has lived in Finland with his family since 2007. His geographic location and bureaucratic status of asylum has not, however, given him a sense of total security. Musa describes his flight from Chechnya as a “race” with the local authorities as to whether or not he would get find safety before they caught him again. Life outside of his homeland seemed distant and foreign. Yet, he had to choose between torture and survival.
“Being safe” is, however, a very conflicting experience. “I thought that as soon as I told human rights organizations about what I had just witnessed with my own eyes, they would spring into action. However, the reaction seemed to be that I was just one of many and that it was just fine that people were being tortured and killed, that this was just the way it was.”
In prison, people are removed completely from reality and the prison walls are supposed to form the boundaries of their world for the next 10-20 years.
“I think that a person who is being taken to be shot would react in the same manner: This is how it goes, there is no option, just get on with it. In the same manner, when you are being beaten for days on end and thrown against a wall, you would be happy to tell them everything that you have heard and confess to having done it all. That is why you have to adapt to the real world outside of prison, and it takes a long time. I do not think I would have made it without my family.”
In Finland, Musa learned that torture victims can receive help from the Center for Torture Survivors. “I had no idea what this sort of treatment was all about but I quickly learned to understand it. The professionals at the center have helped me immensely. They did not carry out any operations or treat my ailing bodily organs but they got inside my head. I still have to get rid of all the mishmash, but part of it is gone,” Musa tells me, laughing.
There were moments during the treatment that the doctor in charge could not take it anymore and burst into tears. Musa was not surprised, even though his experiences are part of his everyday life.
“When we were prisoners, we all had it very bad; it was like we were in a hennery, where chickens are picked to be killed. However, we always smiled at the people who were holding us there. We did not let them know that we would break. When we were taken to the courtyard for a walk, we danced traditional Chechen dances. Everytime someone was taken, we bid him farewell as if he was going to die. When he came back, he was received like our own brother. That is the condition that we were in while we were there,” Musa recounts.
Musa says he first thought that the people who imprisoned him were human and that they would react when you showed them how much it hurt you when you were beaten. The opposite happened: The torturers beat you even harder. In treatment, Musa has come to understand that when a person ends up in such a situation, he will fight until the end, and when his strentgh fails him, he will just go with the flow.
“The people at the rehabilitation center are real professionals; they explained a lot about me that I did not understand at all in the beginning”.
The prison was located about 20 minutes away from Musa’s home. Those who detained, imprisoned, and tortured Musa were all Chechens. “No Russian ever laid a finger on me,” Musa said. He said that he had “very nice conversations” with his torturers. “Try to understand,” they said. “This is our job, and in reality, things are quite different. You just have to accept this, otherwise we will not get anywhere.”
“Before my second to last trial, those who took me from my cell to the court told me that they felt that I could get out of there and told me not to talk about what had happened. Yet, at the same time they felt that Musa was not going to stay silent. Had I fled and then stayed silent it would have been unfair. Imagine if all those who were in the Nazi concentration camps would have stayed silent. We would have no idea about what had taken place there,” Musa explained.
Musa stresses that, contrary to many media reports, the conflict in Chechnya is continuing. “If we had access to the places where [Chechen dictator Ramzan] Kadyrov’s henchmen are holding prisoners, we would see a lot of tormented people. The torture continues; only the volume of torture has changed. In 2000-2006, very many people were killed, especially young people. Out of my friends, five people have disappeared without a trace, and their parents still have no idea what has happened to their boys. Finland should therefore not refuse asylum to Chechens, because no Chechen will leave his homeland just for his own pleasure, except those who serve Kadyrov. They can do anything to people like me in Chechnya: They can kill us, they can shame us, they can torture us.”
I have to tell Musa several times that I find it very hard to understand what he is talking about. “I can understand it very well,” he says. Yet I try one more time. I ask him what he would like the viewers of the Mervi Junkkonen’s documentary to understand about his world and the people in it.
“This is a difficult question. It is very hard to say simply, ‘please think about it this way or that way’. I would like to say this, though: Do make sure that nothing like this ever happens in your country. Anyone can be accused, but it is very hard to prove that a person is guilty. Yet, there is a place called Chechnya where no one has to prove anything. When a person is caught up in the machine, he is guilty and a criminal. I would like for people to feel the value of life and freedom. That is the most important thing, everything else is just rubbish. We should not let despotism reign,” Musa concludes.
*Text was translated by Kerkko Paananen and edited by Michael Capobianco