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Rights groups concerned about women in Muslim Chechnya

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Thu, 10 Mar 2011 16:43 GMT
Author: (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2011. Click For Restrictions.
(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2011. Click For Restrictions.
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MOSCOW, March 10 (Reuters) - Women in Russia&${esc.hash}39;s Muslim Chechnya region are being violently forced by authorities to wear Islamic dress, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday, calling on the Kremlin to take action to put a stop to it.

A spate of attacks last year on women for not wearing headscarves on city streets in Chechnya angered women who said being forced to dress a certain way violated their rights.

Assailants who said they were under instructions from spiritual authorities targeted some women with paintball pellets, threatened them with Kalashnikov rifles and shoved them for not wearing headscarves or for exposing their arms and legs.

The Kremlin-backed Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, who has repeatedly spoken out about his dislike for women who dress less appropriately than he deems acceptable, later said he was grateful to the paintball attackers.

An unofficial campaign limiting Chechen women&${esc.hash}39;s freedoms has been gaining strength over recent years, the New York-based HRW says in a 40-page report released on Thursday on the "Islamic dress code" in Chechnya.

The campaign started in 2007 when Kadyrov ordered an edict that banned bareheaded women from entering state buildings. Though in direct violation of Russian law, it is strictly followed today.

"These attacks against women are outrageous, and the alleged involvement of law enforcement officials is of special concern," HRW&${esc.hash}39;s Russia researcher Tanya Lokshina said in the report.

The report says there are dozens of victims and witnesses to the attacks, which also included threatening a bareheaded supermarket cashier with "serious problems", and trying to throw a 19-year-old woman with loose hair in a rubbish bin.

"The Kremlin should publicly and unambiguously make clear... that Chechen women, like Russian women, are free to dress as they choose," Lokshina said.

Against the backdrop of a spreading Islamist insurgency in Russia&${esc.hash}39;s mainly Muslim North Caucasus, the Kremlin relies on Kadyrov, 34, to maintain relative stability in Chechnya, site of two separatist wars since the Soviet collapse 20 years ago.


Analysts say that in return, Kadyrov is allowed to impose his radical vision of Islam, and the Kremlin watches uneasily as central power yields to Islamic tenets. [ID:nLDE67O0S0]

HRW and local rights workers say being forced to wear Islamic dress or a headscarf in Chechnya violates Russia&${esc.hash}39;s secular constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion, freedom of conscience and the right to personal autonomy.

Federal authorities lodged an inquiry into the paintball attacks, which were denied by Chechen authorities, but since then Moscow has taken no further action.

Physical attacks subsided with the close of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in mid-September, HRW says, but the pressure to dress a certain way permeates society with fear. In February Kadyrov&${esc.hash}39;s administration asked that state workers wear "Muslim dress" to work on Friday, with women in long skirts and three-quarter sleeves.

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