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(Moscow) - The Russian authorities should immediately investigate the vicious assault on the human rights defender Bakhrom Hamroev on June 6, 2011, and bring those responsible to account, Human Rights Watch said today.

Hamroev is a longtime human rights defender who works on issues related to Central Asia and Islam with the Memorial Human Rights Center. The June 6 beating by unidentified men on the stairway of his apartment building in Moscow was the second recent attack on him. In December 2010, after Hamroev tried to observe a law enforcement raid on an apartment in Moscow, he was knocked unconscious by a plainclothes officer. No one has been held accountable for that attack.

"This is the second brazen beating of Hamroev, and it should not go unpunished," said Tanya Lokshina, Russia researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Russia needs to put a resolute end to the climate of impunity for attacks on human rights defenders, which emboldens the perpetrators and perpetuates attacks."

Hamroev told Human Rights Watch that as he returned home at about 6:10 p.m. on June 6, he saw a man standing next to the entrance of his apartment building. The man looked at him and immediately made a call on his mobile phone. Hamroev entered the building.

Another man, also a stranger, was apparently waiting for him on the stairway between the first and the second floor, next to building's the mailboxes. A third man came out of the elevator and without saying a word, hit Hamroev in the face. Hamroev fell to the floor and the assailant, who was wearing brass knuckles, beat and kicked him. The individual who had been standing by the mailboxes joined the beating and sprayed mace into Hamroev's face, causing intense pain and temporary blindness.

According to Hamroev, the beating lasted a little over a minute. The attackers left him on the floor. He eventually managed to reach his own apartment, where his wife immediately called an ambulance. Hamroev was taken to a hospital and treated for injuries, including a possible concussion. He could not open his eyes for several hours because of the mace.

Late in the evening, investigators arrived to examine the crime scene. Among other things, they discovered that the lens of the video camera on the front door of the building was covered with chewing gum, suggesting that the attack was premeditated and carefully planned.

"Throughout the past year, the Russian leadership has repeatedly stressed its commitment to fostering a normal working climate for civil society," Lokshina said. "The authorities should back those statements by ensuring effective investigations into attacks against activists such as Hamroev."

The previous attack against Hamroev was carried out by a law enforcement official. On December 7, 2010, Hamroev received a call from an acquaintance whose apartment was being searched allegedly for extremist literature. Hamroev decided to observe the raid to deter possible abuses. Law enforcement officials prevented him from entering the apartment, though.

While he was waiting outside in the courtyard, a plainclothes officer approached Hamroev and asked 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 concussion. Although prosecuting authorities informed Hamroev that they had opened a criminal case into the attack, and despite the fact that the identity of the plainclothes officer should be straightforward for officials to provide, to date there have been no tangible developments in the investigation.

Russia has an obligation to carry out a prompt, effective, and impartial investigation into the June 6 beating of Hamroev, to identify everyone involved in the attack, and to hold them accountable, Human Rights Watch said. The authorities should also pursue the investigation into the previous attack against Hamroev more rigorously and ensure that the law enforcement official responsible is brought to justice.

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