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As Moscow rounds up Chechens, bias issues arise

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As Moscow rounds up Chechens, bias issues arise

Dozens held; reprisal is seen

By David Filipov, Globe Staff, 11/17/2002

MOSCOW - Police are rounding up ethnic Chechens in a widespread operation that human rights groups and ethnic Chechen officials say is a reprisal for the theater hostage crisis three weeks ago.

Chechens in Moscow say police come to their homes, conduct illegal searches, plant drugs and weapons, then haul in the occupants as part of an undeclared campaign to rid the city of Chechens.

Russia's interior minister, Boris Gryzlov, has said that police have detained dozens of accomplices to separatist guerrillas from Chechnya who seized more than 800 captives on Oct. 23 in a brazen raid on a Moscow theater. Gryzlov also said that he had warned all police chiefs that they would be held responsible if they used the dragnet to propagate anti-Chechen sentiment.

But a Russian rights group, the Committee for Civic Assistance, says the crackdown has snared many Chechens who have no connection to the hostage crisis. It has also led to detentions of migrants from other Russian regions in the Caucasus and citizens of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, who tend to have darker features than ethnic Russians.

If there were a campaign against Chechens in Moscow, it would be the latest example of the difference between official policy on Chechnya and the way law enforcement officials act on the ground.

The Kremlin officially distinguishes between ordinary Chechens, whom it considers Russian citizens with full rights and privileges, and the separatist militants, whom it describes as terrorists.

But human rights advocates and civilians assert that Russian police and troops in Chechnya often do not make that distinction. Now, Chechens say, relations with the authorities are not much better in Moscow, which is home to about 100,000 ethnic Chechens, many of them refugees from the two wars that have left thousands dead in the region since 1994.

The police ''come up to you, plant drugs or bullet shells in your coat,'' said Adnan Ibragimov, a Chechen who has lived in Moscow for seven years. He said he came home recently to find several men in civilian clothes leaving his apartment. The place had been ransacked, and $3,000 was missing, he said.

Ibragimov went to the police. And, he said, he was told: ''What did you expect? You are a Chechen.''

''In Chechnya,'' Ibragimov added, ''at least you know where the shooting is coming from and how to avoid being hit.''

The tense 57-hour siege at the theater, and the tragic climax, have stirred anger toward the separatists that had been dormant in Moscow, where the war in Chechnya had ceased to be front-page news. At least 128 of the hostages and 41 of the guerrillas died on Oct. 26 after counterterrorism commandos pumped a narcotic gas through the theater's ventilation system and came in shooting.

In the emotional aftermath, President Vladimir V. Putin shocked European leaders with angry and crudely worded responses to questions about the conflict with Chechen separatists. Putin suggested that one French reporter come to Moscow to be circumcised, and said he would ''recommend that they carry out the operation in such a way that nothing grows back.''

At home, Putin has been more circumspect, warning Russians against launching reprisals against all Chechens. Kiril Mazurin, a Moscow police spokesman, denied that police have sought out Chechens. He said they were looking for accomplices of the hostage-takers, as well as everyday criminals.

''It is the media that is putting the accent on Chechens,'' Mazurin said.

But Yakha Elmurzayeva, an aide to Aslanbek Aslakhanov, Chechnya's representative to the Russian Parliament, said she has received 10 times the usual number of complaints about police harassment and unlawful detention of ethnic Chechens.

Adding to the troubles of Chechens in Moscow, authorities have stopped issuing them residence permits, which the city requires. This has made them even more vulnerable to random document checks by police.

Magomed Khayauri, a senior official in Chechnya's loyalist administration, said police had told him that they had orders to ''expel Chechens from the city in any way possible.''

Khayauri works in Chechnya's war-devastated capital, Grozny, but for safety reasons he lives with his family in the neighboring region of Ingushetia. He was in Moscow to find out about his son and nephew, who were detained on charges of possessing heroin the day after the hostage crisis ended.

Khayauri said the police had planted the drugs on his son, Akhmed, 20, a distinguished student who had transferred to a Moscow university from the Caucasus to get a better education, and on his nephew, Khussein, 24, who had come to help Akhmed get settled in Moscow.

''These boys have never smelled cigarette smoke, much less drugs,'' Khayauri said of the young men, who are in a pretrial prison. ''Now I don't know what to do.''

Other Chechens who have been detained say that officers have given them a choice: Leave Moscow or face charges.

Zelimkhan Nosayev, 36, who has worked as a driver in Moscow since a mortar shell destroyed his apartment in Grozny in 1999, said he cooperated when police came to his house on Oct. 30 and asked him to come to the precinct briefly to be fingerprinted. But he said that when they reached the precinct, one of the officers produced a small bag of white powder and said, ''This is heroin, and it is yours.''

When he protested, Nosayev said, the officers showed him a gas-powered pistol and then a car radio, which they said had been stolen. They offered him a choice of which illegal item to claim. Finally, he said, they brought a pin from a hand grenade, wiped it free of fingerprints, and put it in his coat pocket.

''They told me, `If you don't sign these documents admitting that this pin was yours, we'll search your apartment and find the second half of this grenade,''' said Nosayev, who spent two days in jail and is awaiting trial on an illegal weapons charge.

''We are afraid to open the door to anyone anymore,'' said Nosayev's mother, Ramzat. ''We are miserable. Where am I supposed to look for justice?''

This story ran on page A6 of the Boston Globe on 11/17/2002.

© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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Originally posted by dnice35

They could thank those terrorist for this......

True, but that still does not give the Russians the right to label ALL Checheans muslims as terrorists. Just think, the US is detaining muslims for assumed "terrorist ties" here so the US is no exception.

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