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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chechens Suffer Rough Justice From Police

In the wake of last weekТs explosion at Pushkin Square, as Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov and others spoke directly of a Chechen connection to the crime, a handful of Chechens were pulled in by police from all across the capital for petty-seeming crimes.

The Moscow Times has closely followed the case of one young man Ч he is pictured above Ч who police say they arrested for carrying bullets in his pockets. For that crime, this man was led away from his familyТs apartment building in handcuffs for a five-day stint in a city police precinct Ч from which he returned this week burned, bruised and battered.

The young Chechen, who asked that his name and that of the precinct involved not be published for fear of police retaliation, was released from prison Monday. On Sunday, he said, he was subjected to an eight-hour torture session, as police sought a signed confession that he had been carrying ammunition.

Click here to read our Special Report on the bombings."They beat me with clubs and mop-handles, they kicked me, walked over me," he recalled in an interview Tuesday afternoon. And he revealed a back covered with bruises and legs mottled with burns.

"Half of it I donТt remember, I think I spent most of the time unconscious. I just remember waking up after the beatings, lying on the floor, tied with handcuffs to two chairs. The policemen were drinking tea."

A detective at the precinct in question Ч interviewed by The Moscow Times about the case last week, before allegations of torture had surfaced Ч said police stopped the young man last Thursday in the stairway of a relativeТs apartment building, where he has been staying, searched him, and found he was carrying more than a dozen bullets.

For human rights advocates and Chechen community leaders, a charge like that sets off alarm bells. Following last yearТs terrorist bombings of apartment buildings, scores of Chechens were arrested on suspiciously similar charges that they were carrying a small amount of drugs or ammunition.

Two organizations, Memorial and Civil Assistance, together have documented 51 such cases in the wake of the 1999 bombings in which evidence was likely planted on the accused.

Since the Pushkin Square bombing, Chechens in Moscow have been bracing for another round of arrests. And anecdotal evidence suggests that wave is upon them.

"We already have more cases [of allegedly trumped-up arrests of Chechens] reported than we had in the same time span in autumn last year," said Eva Torshkhoyeva of Civil Assistance.

"There would probably be even more cases, but people are scared to come out of their homes," she added.

The Moscow office of Kremlin-appointed Chechen leader Akhmad Kadyrov has collected documentation so far of seven suspicious arrests of Chechens since the blast Ч all of them looking very much like the ones recorded by Civil Assistance.

"What disturbs us most is the fact that in many cases, the police have forcefully entered these peopleТs apartments without a search warrant," said Ilyas Khasiyev, a press officer for KadyrovТs Moscow office.

Khasiyev said KadyrovТs office is offering legal help to Chechens in such a jam. Shamil Beno, head of that legal help office, said the situation for Chechens in Moscow today is less scary than it was after the September 1999 apartment bombings.

Beno attributed that new relative restraint on the part of the Moscow police to a short statement after the Pushkin Square explosion by President Vladimir Putin, who asked Muscovites not to jump to conclusions that Chechens were behind it.

"That, and also our demand to be treated the same way other Russian citizens are treated, since we are Russian citizens after all," Beno added.

In the case of the young Chechen man above who was beaten by police for days, a detective at the precinct said the Chechen was first detained on suspicion that he could be involved in preparing a terrorist act. But in a telephone interview Friday Ч again, at a time before torture was apparently involved Ч the detective also said that police no longer thought he had anything to do with the blast.

Asked why a Chechen would carry bullets in his pockets in Moscow in the wake of a terrorist attack, the detective, who refused to give his name, said, "ItТs ordinary stupidity." He also said no gun had been found either on the Chechen himself or in the apartment where he had been staying.

"Soldiers who return from Chechnya often bring cartridges back with them. We check them too and arrest them," the detective added. "So itТs not as if only Chechens get in trouble."

The Chechen himself countered that police did not stop him in the stairway of his apartment building, but actually entered his brotherТs apartment to find him and arrest him. He said that a police officer who led him in handcuffs out of the apartment put bullets into his pockets while they rode the elevator down.

Human rights activists said the ChechenТs story was more credible than the policeТs.

"What Chechen, knowing what happened last time and hearing [Moscow Mayor Yury] Luzhkov talk about the СChechen traceТ in this bombing Ч what Chechen would walk around with bullets in his pocket?" rhetorically asked Diederik Lohman, director of the Moscow office of Human Rights Watch.

Civil Assistance has documented other troubling cases, including:

oA Chechen man living in Izhevsk, about 800 kilometers east of Moscow, who came to the capital to arrange an operation for his daughter and was arrested, also for carrying bullets. Torshkhoyeva of Civil Assistance said Tuesday that man was still in police custody days later.

oA Chechen woman in Moscow who was telephoned Friday at home by a man who refused to give his name but said he was an officer with the Regional Anti-Organized Crime Department, or RUBOP.

The officer ordered her to come immediately to the local RUBOP office "for a talk." When she refused and asked for a written invitation, he threatened to "send a convoy" after her, Torshkhoyeva said.

oA young Chechen woman who asked not to be named said in a telephone interview Tuesday that 10 men that same morning, some wearing uniforms and others in civilian clothing, had forced their way into the apartment where she lived with her two brothers and their families. The police searched it thoroughly and took away the two brothers, she said.

"They had a warrant, and luckily, they didnТt plant anything on us," the woman said in a telephone interview. "But when they were leaving, they told us: СWeТll come after you every time there is an explosion in Moscow.Т" Click here to read our Special Report on the bombings.