Moscow policies towards city's minorities

From: MINELRES moderator <>
Date: Sun, 9 Jan 2000 12:37:35 +0200 (EET)
Message-Id: <>
Subject: Moscow policies towards city's minorities

From: MINELRES moderator <>

Original sender: Susan Brazier <>

Moscow policies towards city's minorities

Moscow: 'Operation Whirlwind' is Over; What Lies Ahead for the City's

Susan Brazier
Memorial Human Rights Centre, Moscow

19 December 1999

Immediately after the August and September apartment bombings in
Moscow and elsewhere in Russia, the Moscow government introduced a
series of measures directed at the city's "guest" population. These
measures, known as "Operation Whirlwind," have since ended; that,
combined with the escalation of the war in Chechnya, has meant that
the situation of Moscow's minority populations has been pushed off the
front pages both in Russia and abroad. The following provides a review
of events between October and early December.

In the aftermath of Operation Whirlwind, dozens of people remain
detained or under orders not to leave the city for questionable
reasons; the police have returned to their previous level of
harassment and extortion of non-permanent Moscow residents; and a new
agreement between the Federal Migration Service and the Moscow
government - concluded in the name of terrorism prevention - provides
another means for the harassment of the capital's "guests."

Operation Whirlwind officially ended October 6. Officials boast that
while in effect, 2,386 people were arrested for various charges,
including 276 who had been under investigation for various crimes; 800
people were removed from the city; over 5,000 cases of administrative
violations related to apartments rentals were found; and over 20,000
people who applied to re-register were refused. According to one
journalist, roughly 6,000 people per day were found to be in apparent
violation of residency registration requirements.

One thing in particular was not accomplished: the identification and
arrest of those behind the apartment bombings.

Meanwhile, the repercussions of the operation continue to be felt both
by individuals directly affected by police action and in the
administrative changes that will affect the lives of the city's
migrants and refugees in the future.

Moscow's Daimokh Centre, a Chechen community centre, estimates that
over 500 people were detained during Operation Whirlwind for
possession of small amounts of drugs or weapons. In addition to the
usual string of insulting statements and mentally and physically
abusive behaviour that often accompanied these searches and arrests,
some police officials reportedly made statements to the effect that
they had been told to ensure they arrested as many Chechens as
possible - for whatever reason: "We have an order: Move out all the
Chechens - and if there is nothing to imprison them for, do something
to make sure there will be; or "What can we do? There is a policy now:
Imprison Chechens."

The NGO Civic Assistance, which provides assistance to refugees and
forced migrants in the capital, has compiled information on 51
Chechens and Ingushetians arrested in the last three months under
questionable circumstances - most during September, but others before
and after Operation Whirlwind. (The weekly human rights newspaper
Express Chronicle in fact dates the hardened line toward the capital's
minorities to the weeks leading up to City Day - in mid-August.) They
have all been charged under Criminal Code Article 222 (possession or
sale of weapons or explosive substances) or 228 (drug possession). The
detainees and their supporters insist the substances in question were
planted by the police. They claim they only appeared after police
conducted repeated, extensive searches of apartments, for example,
when nothing was immediately discovered, or that drugs were found in
detainees' pockets only after they had been taken into police custody.
Most remain in custody or under orders not to leave the city while
their cases remain under investigation. The NGO points out that the
number of cases it has documented only represents those people who
turn to them for assistance - that is, those people with no personal
connections or resources to pursue their cases independently.

One case related to such an arrest recently came before the court.
Lomali Tasuev was visited by the police at his home on September 13
and taken into custody - the explanation given: "Because you are
Chechen." On September 16 - 3 days later - his wife was told that he
was being held for drug possession - specifically 0.15 grams of
narcotics. He stated that the drugs were found only five hours after
his arrest, after his clothes had been touched several times. He
claims he was asked to empty the contents of his pockets onto a table,
that some fell to the floor, and as they were being gathered up, a
small wad of tin foil containing a white powdery substance was found.

Tasuev's case under Article 228 of the Criminal Code was held on
November 30 and December 1 at the Lyublinksi Inter-municipal Court. In
a statement submitted at his trial, Tasuev insisted the drugs were
planted on him by the police. His lawyer, while not denying the
accusation, tried to rationalize the police actions, saying that the
general situation was particularly tense following the bombings and
that the police were under increased pressure from their superiors.
The judge was unconvinced and found Tasuev guilty, sentencing him to
six-months conditional sentence, with a one-year "testing term." (if
within one year, he is found guilty of a criminal offence, the first
sentence will be added to the second). While the sentence was a light
one and Tasuev was able to walk away from the court room, the guilty
verdict is unlikely to bode well for the others awaiting trial.

The news is not all negative. On October 25, after a meeting with
Chechen representatives (and perhaps due to concerns from the city's
prominent Chechen citizens), the city opened a hotline for people to
register complaints about the behaviour of city police. The police
also reportedly received an order to be more sensitive to the city's
minority communities at approximately the same time, according to The
Moscow Times. Some community leaders indicate that since then, there
has been an improvement and that harassment has decreased. Svetlana
Gannushkina, Civic Assistance's director, is quoted by the Times as
stating that the "madness" has decreased, but that there has been no
"radical change." She has also reported that the service provided by
the hotline at its inception was a bit idiosyncratic. On October 29,
for example, Anzhet Takaev was detained, then, following a call from
Gannushkina to the hotline, released. The worker on the hotline asked
Gannushkina who exactly she was helping, saying that "he is a criminal
.. he lives without registration. What do we need him for in Moscow?"

Despite apparent orders to restrain from harassment, reports continue
to come in about abuses committed against Moscow's minority
communities. On November 5, at the state school of management, for
example, a document check was performed by militia officers in the
name of a criminal investigation; ethnic Caucasians were separated out
and approximately 29 people were taken to a police station. They were
detained, searched again and photographed, and several were subject to
physical abuse.

On November 12, Ruslan Ismailovo was visited at his home by a district
militia officer and two civilians. His passport was appropriated and
he was taken to the police station for lack of registration, despite
the fact that after his recent arrival to the city, he had obtained a
job with a construction company that was in the process of arranging
it for him. He was held overnight and released following a visit by
representatives of Civic Assistance and Amnesty International. His
passport was only handed over later after a fine of 20 rubles was

However, people fortunate enough not to be visited by the police still
have reason to be uneasy. Workplaces are not necessarily secure, even
for people with legitimate registration. In early October, for
example, Vakha Shabazov was fired from his teaching position at School
No. 142 on the basis of Order No. 567, "On increased security in
schools," introduced by the Moscow government on September 21. His
boss stated that he was getting "pressure from above." (To illustrate
the tenor of the times, his daughter Elina was dismissed from her job
at a private company because "the group did not wish to work with a

Also in late September/early October, the government took several
measures to control migrants' move into the city and lives within it.
As per the order "On temporary measures on the efficient work with
refugees and forced migrants arriving in Moscow, and with people
applying for that status," Komsomolskaya Pravda reported that the
migration services will only consider applications from individuals
applying for refugee or forced migrant status from individuals who
have temporarily registered with relatives for not less than 6 months.

Similarly, Mayor Yury Luzhkov and the head of the Federal Migration
Service, Vladimir Kalamanov signed an agreement on October 4 whereby
the government will assist the service in areas that had previously
been the service's sole responsibility. Under this agreement,
Izvestiya reports, the city now intends to control the activities and
movements of all new arrivals to the capital. The head of the Moscow
Migration Service, Sergei Simdovich, told the paper that in the near
future, an unspecified change in the procedures for registration would
be undertaken. He stated that 100 additional people would be deployed
to points of migration control, such as the airports and the train
stations. New arrivals, having paid a "nominal sum," could then stay
in the capital on a legal basis.

While no new registration measures have yet been introduced, evidence
of the new cooperation was apparent on October 27, when the city's
security officials and migration service together conducted an
operation at the Amaras food company, and escorted from the premises
eight Armenians and one Georgian working there without proper
registration. The Express Chronicle described this as an example of
the fight against terrorism having indirectly spread to other
unregistered refugees and migrants who, as per the Mayor's order No.
1057 of September 28, are not registered in the capital. According to
the head of the Moscow Migration Service, Sergei Smidovich, this order
restricting status was based not only on anti-terrorist
considerations, but also on economic ones - as a way to encourage
temporary migrants not to settle in the city.

Operation Whirlwind is now history, but it should not be forgotten.
Memorial, Civic Assistance and others, such as Duma member Valery
Borshchev and Lev Ponomarev of the "For Human Rights" movement, have
asserted that the extensive and specifically targeted nature of police
activities carried out at that time made them qualitatively different
than the situation that had existed for years in the capital - and an
obviously highly dangerous precendent. And while that particular
crisis has passed, the status quo ante is unacceptable, whereby
migrants and refugees, as well as many long-term Moscow residents, are
subject to the whims of a police force whose racism and brutality is
well-documented and a government that refuses to be bring it into
line. Until those underlying problems are addressed, and particularly
while the Kremlin wages its war against Chechnya, thousands of people
wait in trepidation for the next time a new policy, a new terrorist
act or a political whim means another wave of ethnically targeted
humiliation, arrest and abuse.

For further information, two detailed reports produced by Moscow's
Memorial Human Rights Centre about events in the capital have been
made available through MINELRES. The first looks at abuses committed
under the city's registration system in general, while the second
provide more details about the first few weeks of the re-registration
carried out under Operation Whirlwind.

Susan Brazier is a Human Rights Researcher.
She provided this piece to Memorial Human Rights Centre, Moscow. 
web site is

>From the moderator: Two Memorial's reports mentioned in the report
('Ethnic discrimination and discrimination on the basis of place of
residence in the Moscow region' and 'Moscow after the explosions.
Ethnic cleansings. September-October 1999') are available by request
at the moment (125 Kb and 51 Kb in .doc format). We hope to put the
reports online soon. 

MINELRES - a forum for discussion on minorities in Central&Eastern

List archive: