MSF denounces inaction and indifference of Russian authorities

Humanitarian worker, Arjan Erkel, still captive after 19 months
Moscow/Geneva - Nineteen months after the abduction of Arjan Erkel the international medical humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) denounces the failure of the Russian authorities to secure his release. President Putin pledged to give the case the highest priority in May of last year. The Russian government has failed to live up to this promise. As a result, MSF holds the Russian authorities responsible for Arjan's prolonged detention and demands his immediate and safe release. Russian and Dagestani authorities claim to know who is behind the abduction, where Arjan is being held and how to secure his release. Federal authorities have demonstrated that they have direct access to the kidnappers. "It is clear that the Russian authorities hold the keys to solving this case and securing the safe release of Arjan. By not doing so, they demonstrate their lack of interest in its resolution. The names of those involved have been widely published in the Russian and international media. The Russian authorities have neither explained nor denied these accusations." says Dr. Thomas Nierle, MSF Switzerland's Director of Operations. The abduction of Arjan and the subsequent investigation has been characterized by extreme irregularities. On the night of Arjan's abduction he was followed by two FSB operatives who themselves admit that they stood by as he was kidnapped. The prosecutor's investigation was halted for six months without the knowledge of MSF. Arjan's mobile phone, which was meant to be monitored, was used to make over 50 phone calls early last year. This fact only became known when MSF received the bill. Despite MSF having given the investigators an itemized phone list, they failed to follow up on this lead. Finally, the officer in charge of the investigation was arrested without any official explanation in December 2003. "Very few aspects of the investigation give us reason to believe that the Russian authorities are really taking this seriously. In fact, it is clear that the investigation has been hampered every step of the way. It appears they are more interested in a cover-up than solving the case", says Dr. Nierle. MSF has not received a proof of life since last October and all discussions held with the kidnappers though intermediaries came to a halt in December. The various proofs of life as well as the introduction of intermediaries had been provided by the Russian security services. "It is unacceptable that after 19 months of captivity, all the authorities can do is say that Arjan is alive", says Kenny Gluck, MSF Holland Director of Operations referring to recent statements made by Russian officials. "MSF demands that the Russian authorities live up to their responsibilities and immediately secure the safe release of Arjan" concluded Kenny Gluck, who was himself kidnapped in Chechnya in 2001. In addition, MSF urges the international community and, in particular, the Dutch government to demand concrete results from the Russian authorities and make them accountable for their lack of commitment.