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(Moscow) - The Russian authorities should immediately investigate the beating of the human rights defender Bakhrom Hamroev and take action against those responsible, Human Rights Watch said today. Hamroev was knocked unconscious by a plainclothes officer after attempting to look on as law enforcement officers raided an apartment on December 7, 2010.

"This outrageous beating should be investigated immediately," said Anna Sevortian, Moscow director at Human Rights Watch. "Hamroev's beating is only the latest in a long string of cases of violence and interference in the important work of human rights defenders."

Hamroev, a longtime human rights defender who works on issues related to Central Asia and Islam with the Memorial Human Rights Center, received a call from an acquaintance whose apartment was being searched for religious literature. Hamroev told Human Rights Watch that he went to the apartment to observe the raid. At least 20 armed, plainclothes officers, some of them masked, took part, he said. Hamroev's acquaintance told him that the law enforcement officers had not shown a warrant or any other document authorizing the search.  Hamroev was not permitted to enter the apartment and waited outside in the courtyard.

In the courtyard, a plainclothes officer approached Hamroev from a waiting car and asked him whom he was protecting and why he was interfering with a special operation. The officer hit Hamroev in the back and head with his fist, knocking him down. When Hamroev tried to stand up, the officer hit him again, knocking him unconscious. Hamroev later called the police and asked for medical assistance, was taken to a hospital, and treated for a concussion. He later lodged a complaint with the police.

Memorial told Human Rights Watch that there have been several similar raids in Moscow in recent months, targeting both Russian citizens and migrant workers from Central Asia as suspected extremists, and that at least one other similar raid occurred on December 7.

"Despite government pledges to foster a normal working climate for civil society, human rights activists and independent journalists continue to face violence, harassment, and intimidation," Sevortian said. "Russian authorities should protect civic activists and make good on their obligations."

Russia has an obligation to carry out a prompt, effective, and impartial investigation into this incident, Human Rights Watch said. The authorities should respond to the complaint lodged by Hamroev by immediately identifying all the officers who partook in the raid on December 7, and establishing the identity of both the officer in the courtyard who allegedly assaulted Hamroev and the officer's commanding officer. Memorial has released details about the car and its license plate number. The authorities should also secure statements from any non-law enforcement witnesses and evidence about Hamroev's admission to and treatment in the hospital. These basic steps, taken promptly, are essential to an effective investigation, Human Rights Watch said.

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