Chechnya arrests three ‘witches’ in Halloween crackdown

The women were reportedly caught ‘red-handed’

Oliver Carroll
Moscow Correspondent
Monday 01 November 2021 17:45 GMT
Head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov
Head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov (Reuters)
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Three women in Chechnya were arrested over the Halloween weekend on suspicion of sorcery.

The suspects were reportedly “caught red-handed”, local state television reported – with maps, tarot cards, and a magical stone one of them had brought into the Islamic republic from the Buddhist region of Kalmykia.

It is unclear if the women were practising folk medicine, or if the arrests were proxy for another kind of repression – as is sometimes the case in the largely lawless republic headed by strongman Ramzan Kadyrov.

Grozny TV’s lengthy investigation revealed that Zulai Kurashevaya, Tumisha Kunumirovaya, and Irina Adyevaya had been secretly filmed for almost two weeks.

Snippets of grainy undercover footage appear to show the women boasting of extraordinary powers. One claims to be able to heal tuberculosis; another to predict the future.

“That woman had no way of predicting she would become the hero of a national television report,” interjects the reporter.

Flanked by soldiers of Ramzan Kadyrov’s 249th special motorised battalion – these were the men doing the arrests – the three female suspects protested that they were not, in fact, witches.

They were helping people as best they could, the women said: natural healers, sure, but not full-on occultists.

Their protests did not impress doctors from Chechnya’s “Centre for Islamic Medicine”, which plays a frontline role in the republic’s witch-hunt.

Adam Elzhurkayev, the centre’s head doctor, confirmed to The Independent that he had taken a personal interest in the operation to rid Chechnya of sorcery. “Dozens of victims” had come to him, he said.

They reported a “variety of underhand schemes” to convince vulnerable people to part with considerable sums of money.

“These women are engaged in forbidden acts under Islamic and Russian law,” he said. “They tell people they can fix their lives in exchange for 15,000, 35,000, 40,000 rubles (£150-400).”

Mr Elzhurkayev does his bit by conducting “healing” exorcisms himself, in cooperation with local law enforcement. (”It’s impossible to work otherwise,” he says.) The methods he employs depend on what is wrong with the women – they are always women – and whether they are mentally ill or “possessed”.

“We use oils, smoke inhalations, and the palms of our hands,” he says. “And we read Quranic verses. We can cleanse a person this way.”

On successful completion of therapy, Mr Elzhurkayev’s centre releases the women into the custody of male relatives. They have to sign an agreement that the sorcery will end.

This appears to have been the case with the three women, who were released without formal charge.

“We only let them go with a signature,” Mr Elzhurkayev said.

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