The Moscow activist group “For Human Rights” announced on March 14 that it had learned that Russian authorities had detained three Chechen activists at a checkpoint in Ingushetia the previous day. One of the three, Sulumbek Tashtamirov, was already on a hunger strike to protest the upcoming referendum. He and refugees Shirvani Gunaev and Magomed Emkaev were all being held by local authorities, according to a March 17 report published by Novaya gazeta. Tashtamirov’s hunger strike–which according to the Novaya gazeta account had been joined by twenty-six more refugees as of the beginning of March–demanded democratic conditions in conducting the March 23 referendum.
It was also Tashtamirov who initiated a petition drive appealing to the government of Kazakhstan to allow the refugees to move there rather than be forced back into Chechnya. This petition was especially striking since it was in Kazakhstan that the Chechen nation was forcibly resettled in the 1944 deportation under Stalin. Neither the Russian nor the Kazakhstan authorities have replied to Tashtamirov’s appeal, even though it has collected some 11,000 signatures.
The Novaya gazeta report, written by Lidya Graphova, noted that arrests are a regular occurrence for Chechen refugees in Ingushetia. On March 11 the body of a young man, Visadi Shokarov, was found in a morgue in Mozdok. He had been arrested in January and sent to the same jail which now holds the three human rights activists.