Moscow – A former Chechen police officer who admitted taking part in the murder of Russian opposition activist Boris Nemtsov “likely confessed under torture”, a member of the Kremlin’s human rights council told AFP on Wednesday.
Zaur Dadayev allegedly confessed and was charged but has now insisted to the council’s Andrei Babushkin that he is “innocent” and only made the admission under duress.
“There are reasons that lead us to believe Zaur Dadayev confessed under torture,” Babushkin told AFP after a visit to the suspect’s Moscow prison cell on Tuesday.
“We cannot confirm that he was tortured as we are not investigators but we did find numerous wounds on his body,” said Babushkin, who was swiftly rapped over the knuckles by investigators for meddling in their probe.
The shooting of Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister who became an outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin, just yards from the Kremlin was the highest-profile killing of an opposition leader during Putin’s fifteen years in charge.
Dadayev, a former deputy commander in a special Chechen police unit, was charged by a Moscow court on Sunday with the murder alongside Anzor Gubashev who worked for a private security company. The two men and three other suspects were remanded in custody.
A court in Moscow heard the men were being probed under a section of the Russian criminal code relating to murders carried out for financial gain, in a sign investigators believe Nemtsov’s murder was a hit.
– ‘I am innocent’ –
Babushkin said Dadayev claimed he had made the confession under duress after being arrested in the North Caucasus region of Ingushetia 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 reported Dadayev as saying.
The suspect said he had eventually admitted to the killing to secure the release of an ex-colleague, Ruslan Yusupov, who was detained alongside him.
“They said that if I confessed they would let him go. I agreed. I thought I would save him and they would bring me to Moscow alive,” Dadayev was quoted as saying by Babushkin.
“I thought that I would be brought to Moscow and would be able to tell the court the full truth. That I am innocent,” Dadayev reportedly said.
Russia’s powerful investigative committee condemned Babushkin’s statement as breaking the law and said that he and a colleague who visited Dadayev would be questioned over possible “interference in a criminal case”.
“They will be subject to an investigation aimed at clarifying their motives,” investigators said in a statement.
Nemtsov, 55, was shot four times in the back on February 27 as he walked along a bridge in central Moscow with his girlfriend.
The killing sent shockwaves through the opposition which accuses Putin of steadily suppressing dissent, and the Kremlin of being behind the murder of one of its last outspoken critics.
Investigators have said they were looking into the possibility that the former deputy prime minister was killed over his support for French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo which published images of the Prophet Mohammed.
But close allies of the prominent activist in Russia’s marginalised opposition dismissed that claim as “absurd”.
Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-loyal strongman leader of Russia’s Muslim Chechnya region, also decried Dadayev’s arrest, describing him as a “real Russian patriot”.
Authorities have also said they are probing the possibility that Nemtsov was murdered for criticising Russia’s role in the Ukraine conflict or as part of a plot to destabilise the country.
Rights groups have consistently condemned widespread abuses in Russia’s notorious prison system and during interrogations by officials.