Go hard or go home How Chechnya went from a ‘coronavirus haven for tourists’ to beating locals with pipes for violating self-isolation
There are only nine confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Chechnya, but the local authorities have already closed the republic’s borders and reportedly started using violence against people who violate the government’s self-isolation orders. On March 30, the website Mediazona reviewed what measures Chechnya has taken to curb the spread of coronavirus.
As late as March 11, local leader Ramzan Kadyrov was still urging Chechens not to fear coronavirus, warning that fear itself can be deadly. At an official meeting to discuss economic development, he encouraged people to boost their immunity by drinking lemon water with honey and eating garlic for “clean blood.” A day later, he reminded Chechens to observe personal hygiene and avoid unnecessary participation in mass events. A week earlier, local Information Minister Dzhambulat Umarov was still inviting tourists to Chechnya as a safe haven from coronavirus.
Chechen officials also hunted down locals who posted warnings on social media that coronavirus was already spreading in Chechnya. Beginning in February, many of these civilians were then forced to make public apologies for spreading “fake news” online.
On March 16, however, public schools were unexpectedly suspended until April 27, all daycare centers were closed, and college students were moved to remote learning. University staff, meanwhile, were reportedly told to keep coming to work in order to “file reports.” When these measures led to panic buying at local stores, the authorities started carrying out raids to ensure that vendors were not raising prices, leading to administrative charges against 35 business owners.
On March 23, Chechnya closed all restaurants and cafes. Kadyrov and his inner circle reportedly reached the decision that same day. A day later, Chechnya confirmed its first coronavirus case.
On March 25, Kadyrov announced on his Telegram channel that all points of entry into Chechnya had been placed under “special control.” He also called on all Chechens to remain at home and avoid any family events and hosting house guests. A member of Kadyrov’s cabinet advised Chechen men to cease all handshakes. That same day, however, Kadyrov attended the opening ceremony for the Dagun Omayev Arts Palace in Grozny. Based on footage Kadyrov shared on Instagram, the event included a large performance for a full concert hall. Kadyrov also hugged several people.
On March 26, Kadyrov asked tourists to postpone trips to Chechnya. A day later, Grozny airport started warning passengers that it would only admit people with residency documents in Chechnya.
By March 27, Chechnya had confirmed five cases of COVID-19. Ramzan Kadyrov created a formal task force to curb the spread of the disease and argued that people who violate quarantine are worse than terrorists. “A terrorist might kill a few people, but someone who infects [others] can kill tens of thousands,” he said. In characteristically brutal fashion, Kadyrov also suggested that these people should be thrown in a pit to die if they don’t care about the safety of their fellow citizens. That same evening, according to the Telegram channel Baza, police cars started patrolling Grozny and ordering pedestrians back home.
On March 28, Chechen Parliament Speaker Magomed Daudov made a public appeal asking local residents to stay home to slow the spread of coronavirus.
On March 29, Chechnya’s chief mufti, Salakh-Khadzhi Mezhiev, canceled Friday prayer on April 3 at all mosques across the republic. That same day, Baza released footage from the Chechen town of Shali (southeast of Grozny) showing more than a dozen masked police officers patrolling the streets, carrying white plastic pipes. The officers are reportedly threatening to use the pipes against anyone who refuses to stay home. According to the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, eyewitnesses in Chechnya say the police are stopping cars to “catch” drivers who aren’t wearing protective masks. “There are also reports about people not wearing masks being dragged from their vehicles and beaten with these pipes,” says the newspaper.
As of March 30, Chechnya has officially confirmed nine cases of COVID-19.