Group says Russian rights worker beaten

MOSCOW Thu Dec 9, 2010 1:01pm EST

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - A human rights worker was beaten unconscious by a member of Russian security forces, his boss at the rights organization Memorial said on Thursday.

Memorial said the attack may have been linked with the group's reporting on what it said were human rights violations during security operations against Russians suspected of Islamist militancy. Moscow police declined to comment.

Vitaly Ponomaryov, supervisor at Memorial, said Bakhrom Khamroyev, 47, was beaten after he was denied entrance to the Moscow residence of a Muslim man that Russian security forces were raiding to search for Islamist literature.

"The man started to strike him on the knees and then on the head," Ponomaryov said.

"He fell down, and when he got back up he was hit again and knocked unconscious," Ponomaryov added. "He beat Khamroyev with his hands alone, but these men are professionals."

Memorial regularly observes security operations against Islamist suspects and says it has recorded 12 cases of disappearances and abductions of Muslims in which authorities may have taken part.

Cases of torture and death of people in custody have earned Russian security forces a fearful reputation.

"Memorial does not rule out the possibility that the attack on Bakhrom Khamroyev was connected with the fact that recently our organization has (drawn) attention ... to the growth of crude human rights violations during special operations against those accused of Islamic extremism," the group said on its website.

President Dmitry Medvedev said in his annual state of the nation address late last month that the deaths of some Russians had occurred because of incompetence or the direct involvement of security forces.

Rights advocates say rising anti-Muslim sentiment in Russia, a mostly Orthodox Christian nation facing an Islamic insurgency in its south, contributes to an atmosphere of impunity among security forces when dealing with suspects.

Ponomaryov said Memorial was awaiting a police investigation into the beating.

(Writing by Thomas Grove)

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