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Chechnya homes torched after call to punish Islamists: rights activist

Several houses have been torched in Chechnya after the Russian province’s leader called for relatives of Islamist insurgents to be punished in the wake of a bloody attack in the capital Grozny, a respected rights activist said Tuesday.

Sergei Babinets, who works for one of the few human rights groups still active in the restive North Caucasus region, told AFP that four houses were set on fire on the night of Saturday to Sunday by a group of armed men about an hour’s drive from Grozny.

The house burnings came after Ramzan Kadyrov, the controversial chief installed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in mostly Muslim Chechnya, threatened collective punishment for families of fighters who stormed into central Grozny, starting a battle in which 24 people, including 14 security officers, died.

“The time when we used to say that parents do not answer for the actions of their sons and daughters is over,” Kadyrov wrote Friday on his Instagram.

“If a fighter in Chechnya kills a policeman or another person, the family of the fighter will be banished immediately without the right to return and their house razed to the foundations.”

He said that parents and neighbours must bear responsibility for actions of militants, and punishing them “is in line with norms of Islam.”

Rights organisations sharply criticised Kadyrov’s statement. There was no immediate confirmation that the house burnings in the village of Yandi were related, but the attacks bore the hallmarks of an official raid, Babinets said.

“According to neighbours, they came and started setting houses on fire. They threw out the owners, they didn’t let anyone take their things and poured gasoline inside,” Babinets, who works in the Joint Mobile Group of human rights activists in Chechnya, said.

The rights group is widely respected and won a major award for its work last year.

A video shot by Babinets (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxRroHTd93o) shows a brick-walled house gutted with fire and all of the contents reduced to soot and blackened debris, with windows missing and parts of the roof caved in.

Babinets said there were rumours of similar incidents in other Chechen towns.

Russia’s Committee Against Torture on Tuesday wrote a letter to the Prosecutor-General saying that Kadyrov’s calls to punish families of suspected militants contradict Russian law.

Rights organisations say Kadyrov runs the region like his personal fiefdom with disappearances and torture happening regularly and the authorities facing no accountability.

Moscow has battled a simmering insurgency for several years in the North Caucasus after fighting two wars against separatists in Chechnya, with the violence subsequently spreading throughout the predominantly Muslim region.