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#12 - JRL 7038
Rights Group: Police Target Chechens
January 28, 2003

MOSCOW (AP) - Scores of innocent Chechens have been jailed and at least one beaten to death in what appears to be a brutally misguided anti-terror campaign by Moscow police, human rights advocates and detainees' relatives said Tuesday.

Beginning in late October, when Chechen gunmen seized a packed Moscow theater, prompting a standoff that ended with 129 captives dead, police in the capital have targeted ethnic Chechens, detaining them for identity checks and fingerprinting and often framing them for crimes, said Svetlana Gannushkina, head of the refugee aid organization Civic Assistance.

Among the victims was Adam Ustarkhanov, allegedly beaten to death by police.

Police detained Ustarkhanov, 30, on Nov. 22 because he lacked the required Moscow residence permit, said his widow, Leila Shabayeva. Instead of imposing the usual fine, Ustarkhanov was viciously, then thrown in the street by police who then called an ambulance, she told The Associated Press.

``He was horribly beaten. ... His skull was fractured,'' she said.

Apparently hoping to ensure Ustarkhanov would not testify against them, police threatened doctors who were treating him, ordering them to deny proper care, Shabayeva said. On Nov. 24, Ustarkhanov died in a hospital.

Shabayeva said there were witnesses to the beatings and the hospital threats, but she said she had little hope anyone would be brought to justice for her husband's death.

``It's unlikely that they will be punished because we're Chechens,'' she said.

Mikhail Morev, the prosecutor handling the case, said a criminal investigation had been launched. However, he said no one had been charged and would not comment on allegations of police involvement. The police press service did not respond to a request for comment.

Police harassment of Chechens and other ethnic groups from the Caucasus Mountains is a fact of life in Moscow, but discrimination tends to intensify after bombings or terrorist attacks. Human rights advocates noted waves of anti-Chechen actions following 1999 apartment house bombings and a 2000 bombing of a pedestrian underpass.

Gannushkina said Ustarkhanov's death was part of a centralized campaign against Chechens since the hostage crisis.

``Innocent people get caught up in this and they stop feeling like Russian citizens; they feel as if they are surrounded by enemies,'' she said at a news conference with other activists.

Lyudmila Alexeyeva, chairwoman of the Moscow Helsinki Group, a respected rights organization, said the police had become ``a weapon of a genocide.''

Musa Geshayev, a Chechen writer who has lived in Moscow since 1994, has seen both his son and a nephew detained on drug charges in recent months. Geshayev alleged that in both cases police planted a small amount of heroin on the men.

Geshayev's son, Zelimkhan, was released this month pending trial, but prosecutors have asked a court to put him back in custody. The writer's nephew, Islam Gadayev, has been in jail since the October hostage crisis.

Such stories abound in the Chechen community, but few families complain. Typically, people secure their loved one's release by paying a hefty bribe, Geshayev said. In his nephew's case, however, he said authorities accepted $1,000, but did not free him.

Over the past decade, thousands of people have arrived in Moscow from Chechnya, where two wars have ruined homes and left the economy in shambles, and where guerrilla warfare and military abuses continue to prevent peace from taking root.

Ustarkhanov and Shabayeva arrived in Moscow four years ago, but discrimination prevented them from obtaining residence permits and finding jobs, Shabayeva said. Shortly before Ustarkhanov's death, the couple decided to apply for asylum in a Western European country for themselves and their daughters, ages 3 and 1. At the time of her husband's ordeal, Shabayeva was in Grozny, the Chechen capital, gathering the necessary documents and saying goodbye to family.

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