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An HRW report finds Russian authorities treat adherents of Salafism, a form of Sunni Islam, as criminal suspects despite the absence of any grounds.
Russia: Abusive counterinsurgency tactics in Southern Republic
The government's response to a decade-long insurgency in the southern Russian republic of Dagestan has been marked by serious human rights violations, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a recent report. Insurgents have also attacked civilians.
The abuses are set against a background in which authorities treat adherents of Salafism, a fundamentalist interpretation of Sunni Islam that is increasingly popular in Dagestan, as criminal suspects despite the absence of any grounds to suspect them of a specific offence.
The report, titled Invisible War: Russia's Abusive Response to the Dagestan Insurgency, documents human rights violations in counterinsurgency efforts as well as crimes by insurgents in Dagestan from 2012 to 2014.
"Many Salafi Muslims in Dagestan experience persistent, invasive harassment by law enforcement and security officials," says HRW Russia programme director Tanya Lokshina. "This abusive treatment alienates and marginalises Salafi communities, and their resulting mistrust of the government plays into the hands of Islamist insurgents."
Human Rights Watch interviewed close to 80 people in Dagestan from 2012 through 2015, including victims of abuse and their relatives, lawyers, police and government officials, human rights defenders and journalists.
Police put Salafis on special watch lists and frequently detain and question these religious group members for no specific reason They repeatedly photograph and fingerprint them and in some cases carry out forced DNA sampling.
Human Rights Watch also detailed several counterinsurgency operations that extensively destroyed or damaged civilian property – for which the owners have not received adequate compensation and none at all in some cases.
"Counterinsurgency operations may well be warranted to protect the public, but what is never warranted is for security forces to conduct these operations without regard for human rights standards," Lokshina said.
HRW found that authorities in some cases used excessive force in detaining suspects or held them incommunicado in undisclosed locations without access to family or lawyers. In some of these cases, police beat suspects to compel them to confess or provide information.
The report calls on the Russian government to stop using abusive tactics in Dagestan immediately and says authorities should foster a favourable climate for journalists, lawyers and human rights defenders to do their work in the region.
"Insurgent attacks on civilians, public officials and police are serious crimes, and those who commit them should be brought to justice," said Lokshina. "But the Russian government can't invoke its duty to prevent and punish insurgent attacks to justify violating people's rights."