Activists: Chechens Being Targeted

Scores of innocent Chechens have been jailed and at least one beaten to death in what appears to be a brutally misguided anti-terror campaign by Moscow police, human rights advocates and detainees' relatives said Tuesday.

Beginning in late October, when armed Chechens seized the packed Dubrovka theater, police have targeted ethnic Chechens, detaining them for identity checks and fingerprinting and often framing them for crimes, said Svetlana Gannushkina, head of the refugee aid organization Civic Assistance.

The case of Adam Ustarkhanov, allegedly beaten to death by police, stands out as the most grisly.

Police detained Ustarkhanov, 30, on Nov. 22 because he lacked the required Moscow registration, said his widow, Leila Shabayeva. Instead of slapping him with the usual fine, they beat him viciously, threw him out on the street and called an ambulance, she said.

"He was horribly beaten. ... His skull was fractured," she said.

Apparently hoping to ensure Ustarkhanov would not live to testify against them, police threatened doctors who were treating him, ordering them to deny proper care, Shabayeva said. On Nov. 24, Ustarkhanov died in a hospital.

Shabayeva said there were witnesses to the beatings and the hospital threats, but she said she has little hope anyone will be brought to justice for her husband's death.

"It's unlikely that they will be punished because we're Chechens," she said.

Mikhail Morev, the prosecutor's office investigator handling the case, said a criminal investigation had been opened. However, he said no one had been charged and would not comment on allegations of police involvement. The police press service did not respond to a request for comment.

Gannushkina said Ustarkhanov's death was part of a centralized campaign against Chechens since the theater crisis.

"Innocent people get caught up in this and they stop feeling like Russian citizens; they feel as if they are surrounded by enemies," she said at a news conference with other activists.

Lyudmila Alexeyeva, chairwoman of the Moscow Helsinki Group, a rights organization, said the police had become "a weapon of a genocide."

Musa Geshayev, a writer who has lived in Moscow since 1994, has seen both his son and his nephew detained on drug charges in recent months. Geshayev said in both cases police planted a small amount of heroin on the men.

Geshayev's son, Zelimkhan, was released this month pending trial, but prosecutors have asked a court to put him back in custody. The writer's nephew, Islam Gadayev, has been in jail since the October hostage crisis.

Typically, people secure their loved ones' release by paying a hefty bribe cobbled together from the savings of their extended family, Geshayev said. In his nephew's case, however, authorities accepted $1,000, but did not free him, Geshayev said.

Ustarkhanov and Shabayeva arrived in Moscow four years ago, but discrimination prevented them from obtaining residence permits and finding jobs, Shabayeva said. Shortly before Ustarkhanov's death, the couple decided to apply for asylum in a West European country for themselves and their daughters, ages 3 and 1. At the time of her husband's ordeal, Shabayeva was in Grozny, gathering the necessary documents and saying goodbye to family.