Get the latest updates as we post them right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Local Chechens Fear Being Scapegoats, Again

When Raisa Nozhuyeva heard about the explosion that tore through the Pushkin Square underpass, she felt a pang of fear for her two sons.

Not that they were anywhere near the blast; they were sitting right next to her. Nozhuyeva had a different concern: that she and her sons recent refugees from Grozny would be turned into scapegoats by angry Moscow authorities.

Chechens in Moscow well remember the aftermath of last Septembers apartment house bombings, when they were forced to re-register with the police and were subject to constant document checks and searches. Officials kicked Chechen children out of school if their parents lacked Moscow registration. Nervous landlords evicted them. And, according to human rights organizations, police planted drugs and weapons on dozens of innocent Chechens in order to incriminate them.

Click here to read our Special Report on the bombings.That crackdown was formally kicked off by Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, who called for re-registration and a crackdown on "guests of the capital" immediately after the apartment house bombings.

So many Chechens had a sense of d?j? vu Tuesday when, mere hours after the explosion, Luzhkov declared that Chechens were behind it a conclusion investigators have yet to reach and Deputy Mayor Alexander Muzikansky said that Muscovites should understand they are "living in the capital of a country at war" and act accordingly.

Chechen women waiting Wednesday at Civil Assistance, an advocacy group that provides legal aid to internal refugees, said they feared a new wave of harassment following the latest tragedy. Employees of the organization said the crowd of refugees packed into the narrow hallways was much thinner than usual a fact they attributed to peoples fear of moving about the city with police vigilance stepped up in the wake of the bombing.

"I have two sons, one 30 and the other 27, and when we heard about this explosion, they both said, Thats it, now we cant go in the metro or ride the bus," Nozhuyeva said.

Raisa Murtayeva, who arrived from Grozny three weeks ago, concurred.

"Right now, our men, who are not guilty of anything, cannot go outside or go anywhere in Moscow," she said. "What rights do Chechens have? If youre a Chechen, youre automatically bad."

Svetlana Gannushkina, co-chairwoman of Civil Assistance, accused Luzhkov of trying to fuel ethnic hatred with his comments that there was "a Chechen trace" in Tuesdays explosion.

"If our mayor has such a great sense of smell, he needs to work at a perfume factory instead of governing the city. What he said yesterday is a crime before humanity. He is using a human tragedy to evoke hatred for people who are just as innocent as the rest," she said.

Gannushkina said there had been no evidence of a crackdown just yet save for unconfirmed information from one refugee who said his ill wife was kicked out of the hospital for being Chechen but she feared the worst.

Moscow police stepped up their presence on city streets Wednesday with Operation Whirlwind. Given the results of last years Operation Whirlwind, that cant be good news for Chechens.

According to a recent Memorial report on ethnic discrimination in Moscow last fall, many ethnic Chechens, Ingush and Dagestanis had narcotics or weapons planted on them during police searches. Together, Memorial and Civil Assistance registered 51 such cases; the names of those people are included in an appendix to the report. Gannushkina said there were likely many more people who didnt turn to them for help.

Gannushkina said the nature of the cases indicates they were likely falsified.

"It just doesnt happen that all of a sudden all these Chechens put identical packages of a very small amount of drugs in their pockets," she said. "And its also strange that these Chechens didnt leave these drugs at home when they came to the police station themselves to re-register."

The wave of such arrests ended as quickly as it began in mid-December when the panic over the bombings died down, the Memorial report said.

But Gannushkina said Tuesday that those cases are still coming to trial, and so far, no acquittals have been delivered and none of the police officers who she says planted the evidence have been brought to justice. Some of the accused have been sent to prison; others have received suspended sentences.

Meanwhile, a Sept. 21 decree of the Moscow education committee prohibiting the children of unregistered non-Muscovites from attending school has not been canceled.

"My grandson has already missed a year of school," Nozhuyeva said.

Lack of registration also prevented people from obtaining passports for international travel and from getting married last fall, according to the Memorial report. Employers and landlords also routinely discriminate against unregistered people.

Moscows registration requirement contradicts the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of movement. President Vladimir Putin has pledged to bring regional legislation in line with federal law, and prosecutors had said they were examining Moscows registration system in that context.

Mariana Khasuyeva, also from Grozny, said the latest explosion would likely renew support for registration among native Muscovites.

"Its quite possible that yesterdays explosion is connected to this problem. Someone is interested in registration not being canceled," she said.

Nationalists did not hesitate to exploit the explosion to fuel anti-Chechen sentiment.

Members of Vladimir Zhirinovskys Liberal Democratic Party unfurled a banner Tuesday evening on Pushkin Square that read: "The only good chichik is a dead chichik," using an invented epithet that apparently referred to Chechens or other dark-skinned people.

The Chechens interviewed Wednesday at Civil Assistance emphasized that they were horrified by the bombing and were themselves removed from politics, forced to come to Moscow after their lives were shattered by the war.

Murtayeva said she had been waiting out the war in Ingushetia, but poor conditions there forced her back to Grozny, where she found her apartment destroyed.

"I decided to come here maybe Ill at least get some temporary work, maybe my child will look at the world normally," she said. "When he hears a plane, he starts shaking nervously. I try to tell him, Here, those kinds of planes dont fly. Here, there are only passenger planes." Click here to read our Special Report on the bombings.