On May 4, several hundred Chechen women blocked a bridge in the city of Argun which connects the main Djohar-Makhachkala (Dagestan) highway. The women were protesting against the arrest of a woman teacher at one of the local schools. They also demanded the release of other local residents who had earlier been taken into custody (Lenta.ru and Presscenter.ru, May 4).On May 2, several hundred Chechens organized a protest in the settlement of Alkhan-Kala, located southwest of the capital, against Russian troops “who they accused of abusing their power and making arbitrary arrests.” The protesters, many of whom were women and the elderly, urged the West to help stop what they called the “genocide” of the Chechen people and demanded the release of thirty-six young men from the area who had been arrested during a recent raid by Russian troops and were being detained under “inhumane” conditions (Agence France Presse, May 2).
On April 30, a leading Russian human rights leader, Lyudmila Alekseeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, completed an inspection trip of Chechnya. She reported that people’s rights were being “constantly violated” in the republic and that Russian troops were responsible for much of the populace’s misery. “Young men,” Alekseeva noted, “have disappeared during sweeps by Russian troops, and some have turned up dead.” Residents of Chechnya, she said “have been physically and psychologically crippled, and human rights are constantly violated,” and this is being done by Russian troops “who supposedly came to Chechnya to defend them from terrorists and bandits” (AP, May 1).
On April 26 in Moscow, on Pushkin Square, a second protest meeting of Russian human rights groups was staged against the war in Chechnya. The officially sanctioned meeting was organized by the Russian national committee “For the Halting of the War and the Reestablishment of Peace in the Chechen Republic. Among the organizations participating were Memorial, the movement “For Human Rights,” and the Anti-Militarist Radical Association. Duma deputies Sergei Kovalev, Sergei Yushenkov and Yuly Rybakov addressed the meeting, as did deputies from the Yabloko faction and well-known Russian writers and scholars. The demonstrators called upon the Russian government to open negotiations with the separatist leadership of Chechnya without any prior conditions. The initial meeting organized by the national committee had been held at the end of February, also on Pushkin Square (Novye Izvestia, Russian agencies, April 26).
On April 25 the online daily Gazeta.ru published the results of a recent poll of 1,600 persons living in thirty regions of Russia conducted by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM). According to the poll, 35 percent of respondents consider the “extra-judicial punishments” meted out by the federal forces against the Chechens to be “justified.” Forty-five percent did not view them as justified, and 20 percent had no opinion.