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Chechen Leader Enforces Islamic Dress Code, Rights Group Says

March 10 (Bloomberg) -- Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed leader of Russia’s mainly Muslim Chechnya region, is forcing women to respect an Islamic dress code and condoning punitive attacks on those who defy the rules, Human Rights Watch said.

Chechen authorities are requiring women to wear a headscarf and dress in long skirts and sleeves in all public places, including offices, schools, universities, entertainment venues, movie theaters and outdoor areas, the New York-based rights group said in a report issued today.

In mid-2010, men mostly dressed like local law enforcement officials shot dozens of women in the Chechen capital Grozny with paintball guns for wearing clothes deemed to be revealing, the group said. The men also handed out leaflets that warned the women they would face more “persuasive” measures if they failed to comply, the report said.

Then-Russian President Vladimir Putin, now prime minister, groomed Kadyrov, 34, to lead Chechnya after his father Akhmad was killed in a bomb attack in 2004. The southern region has been wracked by two separatist wars since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Kadyrov and his father initially fought on the rebel side before swearing loyalty to Moscow. Human Rights Watch, which tracks government abuse, has accused Kadyrov of ordering abductions and torture. He has denied the allegations.

The efforts to enforce an Islamic dress code violate Russian law, said Human Rights Watch researcher Tanya Lokshina.

Dress Code

“These attacks against women are outrageous and the alleged involvement of law enforcement officials is of special concern,” Lokshina said in a statement. “The Kremlin should publicly and unambiguously make clear, in particular to the Chechen authorities, that Chechen women, like all Russians, are free to dress as they choose.”

Kadyrov in a Feb. 19 interview with Bloomberg News said he had issued instructions for the dress code to protect Chechen women’s modesty in compliance with Russian laws.

“If we tell them to respect a certain dress code, then they must do so,” Kadyrov said. “We have the right to do so, we are applying the laws of the Chechen republic, which don’t contradict those of the Russian Federation.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Ilya Arkhipov in Moscow at iarkhipov@bloomberg.net; Henry Meyer in Moscow at hmeyer4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Willy Morris at wmorris@bloomberg.net

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