Sun, Sep 03, 2006 - Page 17 News List

In Humiliation, Chechnya's troubles are laid bare

Chechen security forces a running amok enforcing Islamic law. One of their victims is Malika Soltayeva

By C.J. Chivers  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , ARGUN, RUSSIA

Malika Soltayeva in video images taken on March 19, when she was pregnant, showing her tormenters shaving her head and eyebrows and kicking her after making her dance in public; Malika Soltayeva pictured in a recent photo.

PHOTOS: AGENCIES

The humiliation of Malika Soltayeva, a pregnant Chechen woman suspected of adultery, was ferocious and swift.

Soltayeva, 23, had been away from home for a month and was reported missing by her family. When she returned, her husband accused her of infidelity and banished her from their apartment. The local authorities found her at her aunt's residence. They said they had a few questions.

What followed was no investigation. In a law enforcement compound in this town in east-central Chechnya, the men who served as Argun's police sheared away her hair and her eyebrows and painted her scalp green, the color associated with Islam. A thumb-thick cross was smeared on her brow.

Soltayeva, a Muslim, had slept with a Christian Russian serviceman, they said. Her scarlet letter would be an emerald cross. She was forced to confess, ordered to strip, and beaten with wooden rods and hoses on her buttocks, arms, legs, hands, stomach and back.

“Turn and be condemned by Allah,” one of her tormentors said, demanding that she position herself so he could strike her more squarely.

The torture of Soltayeva, recorded on a video obtained by the New York Times, and other recent brutish acts and instances of religious policing, raise questions about Chechnya's direction.

Since 2004, the war in Chechnya has tilted sharply in the Kremlin's favor, as open combat with separatists has declined in intensity and frequency. Moscow now administers the republic and fights the remaining insurgency largely through paramilitary forces led by Ramzan A. Kadyrov, the powerful young Chechen premier.

Kadyrov's public persona is flamboyantly pro-Russian. He praises President Vladimir Putin and has pledged to rebuild Chechnya and lead it back to the Kremlin's fold. “I cannot tell you how great my love for Russia is,” he said in an interview this year.

But beneath this publicly professed loyalty, some of Chechnya's indigenous security forces — with their evident anti-Slavic racism, institutionalized brutality, culture of impunity and intolerant interpretation of a pre-Medieval Islamic code — have demonstrated the vicious behavior that Russia has said its latest invasion of Chechnya, in 1999, was supposed to stop.

Human rights groups and Chechen civilians say these security forces' ambitions and loyalties are uncertain and their actions are unchecked. The republic's course, they say, is dangerous for Russians and Chechens alike.

Few people have yet compared the current disorder to the end of the brief period of Chechen autonomy, in the late 1990s, when rebels and foreign Islamic mercenaries operated terrorist training camps in the forests, and when Islamic courts sentenced criminals to execution by firing squads, which were broadcast on Chechen television news. But Kadyrov's police and security forces, known as kadyrovsty, are staffed mostly with uneducated young men, some of whom have been fighting for years, including many former rebels who have changed sides.

Recent videos of their conduct, provided to the New York Times by outraged Chechens, show an unsettling pattern.

One shows a man and a woman in the town of Shali, each married to someone else, who this summer were suspected of flirting in a car. The police swarmed around the couple, jeering at them, and directed the man to kick the woman. The couple was then forced to dance a brief lezginka, a traditional and often sexually charged dance. The police kicked the woman, too, and pulled her scarf and hair.

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