A former Chechen police officer said to have admitted taking part in the killing of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov likely “confessed under torture,” a member of the Kremlin's advisory council on human rights said Wednesday.
After visiting three of the five suspects in the case, including Zaur Dadayev, at Moscow's Lefortovo prison, rights activist Andrey Babushkin said the men detained over the Feb. 27 murder appeared to have suffered multiple injuries.
"There are reasons that lead us to believe Zaur Dadayev confessed under torture," Babushkin told the Agence France-Presse news agency, adding: "We cannot confirm that he was tortured as we are not investigators but we did find numerous wounds on his body." Russia’s powerful Investigative Committee hit back, accusing Babushkin of meddling in the case.
Former deputy prime minister Nemtsov was a prominent and persistent critic of President Vladimir Putin. His brazen murder in the heart of Moscow — just a few hundred yards from the Kremlin — shocked his colleagues and supporters, who say the investigation into the murder represents a test of the rule of law in Russia.
Aides to Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister, suspect Russia's state security apparatus is complicit in the crime. Putin has condemned the killing as a “provocation,” and vowed to bring its perpetrators to justice.
Dadayev, who is being held along with his cousins, Anzor and Shagid Gubashev, has admitted involvement, authorities have said.
But Babushkin said Dadayev told him that he had made the confession under duress after being arrested last week, alleging that he spent two days manacled and with a sack over his head.
"They shouted at me all the time, 'You killed Nemtsov, didn't you?' I said, 'No'," Babushkin quoted the suspect as saying.
Dadayev served as deputy commander of Chechnya's "North" Battalion, which falls under the regional interior ministry. He has been awarded Russia's state order for courage for his service in Chechnya, a volatile North Caucasus region where Russian troops have fought two wars against separatists.
According to Babushkin's account, Dadayev said he was "kidnapped" on March 5 after arriving in the North Caucasus region of Ingushetia from nearby Dagestan.
Babushkin also said Dadayev's friend and former colleague Rustam Yusupov was present when he was detained, but has since disappeared. Dadayev had been promised that if he admitted to murdering Nemtsov, Yusupov would be released, Babushkin said.
Babushkin called on the human rights council to inform Putin of his findings, and said law enforcement agencies should investigate the torture allegations.
Russia's Investigative Committee — the country’s main federal investigative authority — responded in a statement that Babushkin and a journalist accompanying him had been allowed to visit Dadaev's prison cell only to see the conditions under which he was being held, but had broken the law by publicizing details about the case. "Such actions may be regarded as interference in the investigation," the statement said.
The committee said that this was "a violation not only of the rules (of visiting rights) but also of the law," and said that both Babushkin and the journalist would be questioned by investigators.
The committee did not confirm or deny Babushkin's claims that Dadaev had been mistreated.
Allies of the late Nemtsov are scornful of the state investigation, and say blaming the killing on Chechens is only aimed at deflecting suspicion from Putin, his inner circle or the security services.
Al Jazeera and wire services