Chechens in Russia take the heat

Reports of harassment by police pour in

Putin, others call for restraint

October 31, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

MOSCOW - As Russian officials began executing a pledge to scour Russia for new clues about terror plots, Chechens in Moscow and elsewhere in Russia accused the police of harassment and false arrest, in what some called a campaign of intimidation based on ethnic background.

But some Chechen representatives here said such problems had not reached the scale of previous crackdowns, thanks in part to carefully worded statements by President Vladimir V. Putin and other officials urging Russians not to target Chechens after last week's hostage crisis in a Moscow theater.

One Kremlin aide said yesterday that no sweeping order to detain Chechens was issued but acknowledged that "some hotheads among the police" might exceed their mandate.

A spokesman for the Interior Ministry refused to comment or offer any specifics yesterday on how many people had been detained as suspected terrorists.

The Russian police began a new sweep of Chechens in Moscow within hours after the seizure last Wednesday night of nearly 800 people attending a performance of the Russian musical Nord-Ost.

Putin stressed then that the hunt should not be interpreted as a blanket condemnation of Chechens.

But the Moscow office of the pro-Kremlin Chechen government said yesterday that Chechens in Russia had lodged several hundred complaints of discrimination by telephone and telegram in the past week.

The office of Aslanbek A. Aslakhanov, Chechnya's representative in the Russian Parliament and a former Interior Ministry official, also reported receiving nearly 500 complaints.

Six employees and the owner of a small auto service center in Moscow were detained by police Friday, the day before Russian forces stormed the theater. Five were released Sunday.

In interviews yesterday, they said police had first locked them in a room of the service center, then released them and led them to the kitchen. There, the employees said, the police pulled a grenade launcher from behind a refrigerator and accused them of illegal weapons possession.

Magomed Dashayev, who owns the auto center, accused the police of planting the launcher and ammunition.

Chechen residents of Moscow say the police have stepped up already-frequent visits to check their Russian passports for the residence permit required to live in Moscow. The Chechens say several people have been taken away to be fingerprinted and photographed, a practice that the Kremlin aide who criticized police said was illegal unless a person was under arrest.

"There are police officers that are detaining people, planting weapons and drugs on them," said Edi A. Isayev, an official at the local office of the pro-Moscow Chechen government, which has opened a hot line.

"They should have been so vigilant when the bandits came to Moscow, but now they're going after people who are law abiding, who came here so their children could go to school."

Abdulla Khamzayev, a former senior prosecutor in the Soviet government who has lived in Moscow since 1965, said in an interview that police came to his apartment Saturday morning to check his documents but left after he challenged their legal right to question him.

Other Chechens, he said, are frequently too cowed to resist. "Some families that were fingerprinted told me, `But at least they're not beating us,'" he said. "`If they didn't cripple anyone, it can be tolerated.'"

Ethnic profiling and misplaced suspicions by authorities have been a fact of life for many Chechens who have fled the fighting and chaos that have dominated Chechnya since war between Russian and separatists broke out there in 1994.

Some Chechens said they were staying off the street.

Yesterday, the father of a 13-year-old boy who died from the gas used by Russian forces when they raided the theater pleaded for ethnic tolerance.

"The main thing is that there not be revenge, all the more on an ethnic basis," said the father, Artur Kurilenko. "Because people will die, and the most frightening thing is children will die."

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