"Police Sharia" in Chechnya
By Umalt Chadayev
GROZNY, Chechnya - Chechen police officials see men and women who go walking after dark as violators of morality. After the first Chechen war, a similar view was taken by members of the Sharia Guard, and by all kinds of "Jamaats", which literally hunted loving couples.
"A few days ago, my wife and I returned home from the house of a friend who lives a couple of bus stops away. It wasn’t very late, but it was dark. We walked along the street, and then sat down at a bus stop for a short rest, and were almost immediately surrounded by men in camouflage uniforms with submachine guns," says a 30-year-old resident of Grozny. "They demanded to see our identity papers, and then began to ask questions about what the relation between us was. and what we are doing at a bus stop in the dark."
"They took my passport and began to copy the data in it. When I said that that the woman with me was my wife, one of them asked if she had her documents on her. But she had left her passport at home. They didn’t believe us, of course, and began to threaten to take us down to the police station, where they would establish if it was true that we were man and wife. Fortunately, after lengthy arguments and explanations we were able to prove that we were who we said we were, and they let us go. As we left, they advised us not to go out walking at night,” he says. “In one way it was all very funny, and in another it was very ugly and unpleasant. They behaved as if we’d committed some crime."
In the resident’s opinion, the policemen were simply out “hunting” at night. "If it hadn’t been my wife who was with me, but a friend or neighbour, say, I think they would have tried to extort money from me, to prevent the incident being made public. But on this occasion they were out of luck, and they didn’t conceal their disappointment. Things like this have happened before, 1998-99, when there were was a Sharia Guard, as well as various groups and 'Jamaats'," he says.
In those days many members of the Ichkerian security forces of Ichkeria literally went hunting for couples who were out on their own. At night they checked the cafés, parked cars, inspected parks and gardens. If they found a man and a woman, the couple were detained and taken to the base. Then the bargaining began. The detained couple were warned that the incident would be reported to their families, and a video was taken to make the arrest more convincing.
Naturally, in such cases, the hapless "chevalier" had to fork out money in order to save the honour of his lady. The amounts could range from a few hundred dollars to 1,500-2,000, depending on the circumstances. Adultery was one of the most serious crimes in Chechnya, and the perpetrators faced harsh penalties, including death. Now this "relic of the past" is returning in the form of raids on couples once again.
"There was something similar in the former Soviet Union,” says Movsar Masuyev, an elderly resident of Chechnya. “While it’s true that it wasn’t as widespread as it was in the period of the Ichkerian state, the police did make money out of it now and then. It goes without saying that they were far less interested in morality than in the financial side. It was their "black" income."
"Of course it’s necessary to keep an eye on morality, to fight for the sacred traditions of our people and see that they are respected, and that there’s no spread of prostitution,” he says. “But not as it was done in the past, and as it’s being done today by the representatives of our own valiant police. If you pay a bribe you can do what you like – why, you’ll be 'famous' all over the republic. What’s more, to see potential lovers in every man and woman is wrong. Though I’m not surprised that our police offers are engaging in this 'industry'. After all, among them there are many men who formerly belonged to the law enforcement agencies under Maskhadov’s regime. They behaved like despots then, and they’re doing so now."