2013-01-17 10:02:00

Chechnya admin denies restrictions on religious freedom

Grozny, Russia, January 17, Interfax - Chechnya's administration has dismissed allegations by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCRIF) that there exist heavy restrictions on religious freedom in the republic.

A policy brief posted on the USCIRF's Web site this month criticizes Russia on various points, among other things attacking a bill to punish "offenses against religion and religious sentiments."

In a separate section, the organization slams Chechnya's head of administration, Ramzan Kadyrov, who "condones or oversees mass violations of human rights, including religious freedom."

"He distorts Chechen Sufi traditions to justify his rule, instituted a repressive state based on his religious views, and ordered the wearing of the hijab," the brief says in part.

The commission recommended Kadyrov for "inclusion in the Politically Exposed Persons list of government officials whose assets should be frozen due to their corrupt practices and gross human rights violations."

Kadyrov's spokesman dismissed the USCIRF's criticism as based on "a shallow study of the situation."

"Previously we also read various conclusions by public commissions and the U.S. State Department on the situation in the Chechen Republic, and they were always subjective," Karimov told Interfax.

"The commission alleges that Ramzan Kadyrov 'distorts Chechens Sufi traditions in a bid to justify his rule,'" Karimov said.

"We are sure that none of the members of the commission had studied the situation directly on site. The allegations that women are forced to wear hijabs in the Chechen Republic are absurd and completely illogical. Thousands of people who arrive in Grozny and in various districts in the republics can see girls and women on the streets who dress the way they want to. There are hundreds and thousands of young women without headscarves, and there are also those who do wear headscarves, or hijabs as they are called," the spokesman said.

He also denied the commission's allegation that Wahhabis are persecuted in Russia. "Neither in the Chechen Republic in particular nor in Russia in general are Wahhabis persecuted for their religious convictions. If they do come under prosecution, it's because of illegal acts of some kind," he said.

"The Chechen Republic is regularly visited by delegations from many countries in the world, they can see the situation for themselves, familiarize themselves with it and study it, and they can meet with members of various religious communities. There are mosques and Orthodox churches in the republic, new churches are being built, and foundations have been laid for a synagogue. This means that the allegations of the USCIRF about violations of freedom of worship in the Chechen Republic were drawn after a shallow study of the situation," Karimov said.