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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Activists See Fraud at Chechen Poll

APBallots being counted at a polling station in Grozny on Monday. Activists say they saw ballot-stuffing and voters being pressured.
GROZNY -- Human rights groups Tuesday reported instances of ballot-stuffing, voting by unregistered voters and pressure from local officials during the Chechen presidential election, which was won by Kremlin favorite Akhmad Kadyrov.

The Moscow Helsinki Group, Memorial and the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society, which all refused to send official observers to Sunday's election, sent monitors to the polling stations and are now busy compiling their reports.

"One of our monitors was taken for an administration official in one of the polling stations in the Shali district, and in his presence a whole pack of ballots was stuffed into a ballot box," said Imran Ezheyev, head of the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society, which is based in neighboring Ingushetia. "The [election] commission member who did it was stopped by our monitor, who told her what she was doing was illegal. She was apparently very embarrassed."

Ezheyev said the monitor saw similar ballot-stuffing in a polling station in the Kurchaloi district.

Moscow Helsinki Group's programs coordinator, Sergei Shimovolos, told reporters in Grozny of another suspicious occurrence in the Shail district. "After one of the polling stations was closed, the head of its [election] commission left with the ballot boxes, went to the head of the local administration and locked himself in the room with him. Isn't it a violation of the law?"

Ayub Arsanukayev, an observer for one of the rival candidates, Shamil Burayev from Achkhoi-Martan, said the main violation was heavy voting by unregistered voters. "People unknown in our districts were coming, showing their passports with registration in absolutely different areas, and voting," Arsanukayev said in an interview.

Although the official turnout was about 85 percent and television reports showed crowds of people showing up to vote, monitors for the human rights groups said they saw few people at polling stations throughout the republic.

"At none of the polling stations, at different times and in different areas of the republic, did our monitors see more than three people at the same time," the Moscow Helsinki Group said on its web site. "In Grozny, the monitors stood for half an hour near one polling station. Only five people came to vote during this time."

Monitors quoted polling stations officials as saying that they had come at the wrong time and just a couple hours before the polling stations had been swarming with people.

Abdul-Kerim Arsakhanov, head of the Chechen election commission, denied allegations of election violations.

"I don't understand what criteria are being used to brand the election as not meeting international standards. The election was democratic and had alternative candidates, whatever anyone says," Arshakhanov told Interfax on Tuesday.

A woman from Mesker-Yurt, who was in her home village in the Shali district Sunday, said that only about one-third of the villagers went to vote.

"Only pensioners went, and those who are getting children's or unemployment allowances, because they were told by our administration that if they didn't go and support Kadyrov they would stop getting their money," said the woman, speaking from Memorial's office in Nazran, Ingushetia, who said she was afraid to have her name published.