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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mayor Calls for More Respect for Chechens

Moscow police, widely criticized for harassing minorities, have received a special order from Mayor Yury Luzhkov: Be nice to people from the Caucasus.

"We want the police to put the accent on being politer and more gallant," said Vladimir Zubkov, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry's Moscow force.

Luzhkov met last month with community leaders from the Caucasus diaspora who expressed concerns about police behavior after apartment bombings in Moscow, Buinaksk and Volgodonsk that left nearly 300 dead.

The government has blamed Chechen terrorists for the explosions, and in their wake Luzhkov ordered people without permanent residence permits to re-register with the police.

Within three days of the second apartment-building explosion in Moscow on Sept. 13, 520 Chechens were arrested in Moscow. Luzhkov's crackdown on unregistered "guests" had made many Chechens scared to step outside their homes.

But now, community leaders say, things are different. If the local boys in gray haven't quite started helping elderly Caucasians across the road, at least there has been a marked decrease in harassment since Luzhkov gave the word.

"After that meeting there was an improvement in the police," said Aslambek Aslakhanov, a Chechen community leader who heads the Association of Law Enforcement Workers. "Before, there were many cases of police framing Caucasians, planting drugs on them - but now virtually none."

"You know they even stop you [for document checks] politely now," said Chechen businessman Bislan Satuyev minutes after his office had been searched by the Federal Security Service and police last week. Before the police left, they apologized for disturbing him.

In addition to ordering the Moscow police not to abuse Caucasians, the mayor agreed to set up a hotline to report any abuses. According to Aslakhanov, the mayor has many close Caucasian friends and even hauled in officials on two occasions and demanded to know why particular Chechens had been arrested.

The Caucasian community in Moscow owns many important businesses - as do mafia groups, of which Chechen-led crime rings are among the most feared. These business connections may have played a role in getting Luzhkov to address the issue; after the bombings even prominent Chechens found themselves the target of police harassment.

But some argue that Luzhkov simply needed to act before the situation exploded into a racial conflict.

"The situation started to get out of control," said Alexander Iskandyan, head of the Center for Caucasian Studies. "What the police were doing ... became very dangerous."

Aslakhanov, who attended the meeting with Luzhkov and has been prominent in protesting against the behavior of the police, says harassment still exists - but it is so much less of a concern that he is devoting most of his time to helping refugees from the war in Chechnya.

But others say Chechens still have cause to be wary of the police.

"Maybe there isn't such madness," said Svetlana Ganushkina of Civil Assistance, an organization that assists forced migrants. "But it's no radical [change]"

"Everyone says that Chechens should go home, that the only good Chechen is a dead Chechen," Ganushkina added, complaining that people were still being refused registration, being sacked or arrested for being Chechen.

Last week Ganushkina contacted the police to inquire about a Chechen man who had been arrested.

"Why are you defending these people? They're blowing up our buildings," Ganushkina quoted the officer as saying.

The hotline, which has been working for two weeks now but is not officially up and running, is receiving up to 100 calls a day, according to one operator, who declined to give his name.

Some say this would be more if it weren't for a lack of publicity. Many people without links to certain community organizations do not know about the hotline.

"What kind of hotline is it if there's no information about it?" said Ganushkina, adding that she found out the number only through a friend at the mayor's office.

But once she found the number, Ganushkina said the hotline helped to get a client of hers out of jail.

The hotline works daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tel. 202-3799/6380. After hours the hotline can be reached by fax at 209-2870.