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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chechen Resident Pays Rent in Abuse

A month in Moscow costs Artur Zubairayev an average of a slap on the face, a kick in the ribs, a night in a police station and 600 rubles. Occasionally, his life in the capital is highlighted by a broken rib.

That is because Zubairayev, 25, is a Chechen who does not have Moscow registration.

Born to a Russian mother and a Chechen father, Zubairayev left his home in Grozny in 1994, just before the first Chechen war started. The fair-haired, delicate young man has lived in Moscow ever since, working at first as a used car salesman, later as an auto mechanic.

But the Moscow government's quasi-official crackdown against unregistered "guests" from Chechnya has turned Zubairayev's life into what he calls "an everlasting nightmare."

This is, of course, nothing new. Moscow's registration policy f and the abuses that come with it f have been around for years.

The policy was ruled illegal by the Constitutional Court in 1996, on grounds that it violates the constitutional right to travel and settle freely about the country. And Moscow city prosecutors confirmed in telephone interviews this week that they consider the registration rules illegal.

President Vladimir Putin has called for checking the power of regional governments, and in response Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov on June 1 gave the regions one month to synchronize their laws with the Constitution and federal laws.

However, when reached by telephone this week, City Hall officials said they had no plans to abolish the registration rules by July 1, and had not been asked specifically to do so.

"Abolish the registration? No way. This is unheard of," said an official with the City Hall legislation department, who refused to be identified. She refused further comment.

Natalya Veshnyakova, a spokeswoman for the Prosecutor General's Office, said she did not know how or whether regions that refused to comply with Ustinov's order by July 1 would be punished.

In the meantime, thousands who live and work in Moscow without proper papers live in constant anxiety f or worse, particularly if they are not ethnic Russians.

Zubairayev says he is stopped at least once a week during random passport checks carried out by the Moscow police. For a Chechen without a Moscow registration like himself, these checks can result in spending anywhere from three hours to seven days at a police precinct, Zubairayev says.

Sometimes he bribes his way out of going downtown, usually for about 150 rubles (about $5). Sometimes he doesn't.

"It's a problem to even get home from work. My girlfriend knows that if I don't come home, it means that I have wound up in a police station for a night. Or two. Or more," Zubairayev said calmly, his long fingers fiddling with a cigarette.

The police can legally detain a person for 72 hours without filing charges.

Sometimes, a detention even means several days of torture and beatings. Throughout his stay in Moscow, Zubairayev has been severely beaten and tortured by police five times f "and I don't count slaps on the face and kicks on the ribs. That's routine," he says.

His nose was broken last year, when the police subjected him to a torture method called slonik, or elephant, during which a gas mask is put on the head of the victim, the air flow to the mask is cut off and the victim is beaten.

Zubairayev says he has also been whipped with electric wires and beaten by baseball bats while handcuffed.

Although the registration policy has always existed in Moscow, the crackdown on non-Muscovites was intensified last fall, after more than 220 people died in two apartment bombings in the city.

Police said at the time that the crackdown was necessary to prevent further terrorist acts in the capital.

Getting a registration f a cheap but lengthy process that involves a lot of paperwork f is often problematic for a member of Moscow's 100,000-member Chechen community.

Zubairayev's attempts to register at the apartment of his Muscovite girlfriend of two years were repeatedly thwarted.

"My neighborhood police officer simply told me that I will not get registered as long as he is alive," Zubairayev said scornfully. In order to apply for a registration, the applicant must produce a paper signed by the neighborhood beat cop to the effect that the applicant is not a wanted criminal.

Two weeks ago, when Zubairayev last approached the officer at police precinct 171, he says the police officer ordered him to lie down on the couch in his office, face down, and then lashed him with a belt f "like a child," Zubairayev says.

"I nearly cried with shame," he said. "It is really humiliating. If I were a thief, I wouldn't complain. But I live an honest life, and I am still treated like a criminal."

When reached by telephone this week, officials at police precinct 171 refused to comment.

In another attempt to legalize his stay in Moscow, Zubairayev and his girlfriend decided to get married. Once married, Zubairayev would automatically be entitled to receive a Moscow residency.

However, when they arrived last December at ZAGS f the agency that registers marriages f the agency's officials refused to wed the couple, on grounds that Zubairayev does not have a Moscow registration.

"This is happening because I am Chechen. If I were Russian, I would not have such problems," Zubairayev says.

Following numerous complaints about the conduct of city police, City Hall last fall launched a special hotline to deal with complaints about law enforcement. The hotline staff then forwarded the complaints to be pursued by the police and prosecution officials.

According to a recent article in the Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper, the majority of callers accuse the police of illegally and arbitrarily refusing to issue the papers necessary to obtain registrations.

Moskovsky Komsomolets reported that the hotline receives 50 calls every day, and 90 percent of the calls are found to be well-grounded and legitimate complaints f but only 30 officials have been punished so far.

But Zubairayev says he is afraid to call the hotline for fear that his neighborhood beat cop will take revenge against him.

Most of all, Zubairayev says he is afraid the police will plant drugs or weapons in his car or clothes during one of their document checks. His fears are not groundless. In the wake of last year's intensive document checks, leaders of Moscow's Chechen community said police routinely planted drugs or weapons on people stopped.