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Chechens Complain of Harassment, Arrests Under Anti-Terrorism Premise

By Sharon LaFraniere

Chechen representatives and human rights officials charged Thursday that last week’s seizure of 800 hostages by Chechen guerrillas has set off a campaign of harassment against Moscow’s Chechens, who they say are being falsely arrested and shaken down for bribes under the cover of an anti-terrorism crusade.

In a still-jittery capital, federal and local police are on the lookout for possible accomplices of the rebels, whose seizure of a Moscow theater left 119 hostages dead, all but two from effects of the gas used by authorities to subdue the gunmen. But human rights officials say they see a pattern of officers using that pretext to intimidate and extort money from law-abiding Chechens, some of whom say they’re afraid to go outside.

“The militia are abusing their authority. They are very biased now” against Chechens, said Oleg Mironov, a Russian official who serves as human rights ombudsman. “They detain people, arrest people, stop cars based on ethnicity. I am very concerned.”

Eddy Isayev, who heads the Chechen government’s Moscow office, said about 200 Chechens have complained of mistreatment since the rebels seized the theater eight days ago. Aides to Aslanbek Aslakhanov, Chechnya’s representative in the Russian parliament, said about 10 people complain to his office each day.

Nonetheless, Aslakhanov and other officials say the backlash is distinctly weaker than it was three years ago, after hundreds of people were killed by explosions in apartment buildings in Moscow and elsewhere in Russia that were blamed on Chechen rebels.

President Vladimir Putin and other officials have warned Russians not to turn against Chechens, saying many of them risk their lives as Russia’s civilian appointees in the separatist southern republic. The government has set up hot lines for complaints.

“It was 10 times worse three years ago,” Aslakhanov said. “This is much softer. However, it is still going on.”

Assa Vatsuyeva, 25, a Chechen reporter for NTV television, said police stopped her on the street Saturday. They questioned her and her family at her apartment, then detained her brother Apti, 20, because he has no permit to live in Moscow.

It takes only 20 minutes to prepare a temporary permit, Vatsuyeva said, but the police kept her brother for four hours. She said one officer told her mother: “Your son is connected to rebels and terrorists. Don’t expect anything good.”

Apti said he’s been detained 15 times in the three years since police confiscated a certificate identifying him as an athlete with the Russian military’s sports club because he couldn’t pay the bribe they demanded.