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Russian Police Detain Beslan Mothers Who Blamed Putin For School Tragedy

  • RFE/RL

Five women who wore T-shirts blaming President Vladimir Putin for the deaths of children, parents, and teachers in the Beslan school massacre were detained during a ceremony commemorating victims of the tragedy that shook Russia 12 years ago.

Two journalists were also detained while trying to film the brief protest at the September 1 memorial marking the anniversary of the 2004 hostage crisis that left 334 people dead, including 186 schoolchildren.

As a bell rang near the red-brick ruins of School Number One in the town in Russia's North Ossetia region, the women took off their jackets to reveal T-shirts that read "Putin is the executioner of Beslan."

Four of the women lost children in the tragedy, and one also lost her husband. The fifth woman’s daughter endured the ordeal -- in which hostages were held in the sweltering school for nearly 60 hours -- and survived.

Armed Islamic militants, mostly from the neighboring Chechnya and Ingushetia regions, stormed into the Beslan school on September 1, 2004, the first day of classes, taking about 1,200 children, parents, and teachers as hostages.

Most of the victims were killed by explosions or gunfire during the Russian special forces' assault on the school on the third day of the hostage crisis, September 3. Some victims' relatives, and others in North Ossetia and across Russia, blame the authorities for most of the deaths.

Russian officials have said they only gave the order to storm the school after hearing an explosion and said they had no choice but to intervene to prevent the hostage-takers from killing the students and teachers.

'Unauthorized Protest'

The five protesters were Emma Betrozova, Ella Kesayeva, Zhanna Tsirikhova, Svetlana Margiyeva, and Emilia Bzarova. Russian police accused them of violating a law against unauthorized protests -- legislation that critics say denies Russians their constitutional right to free assembly.

They face up to 15 days in custody and potential fines; a second such offense within six months can result in a five-year prison sentence.

Two journalists who covered the event -- Novaya Gazeta newspaper reporter Yelena Kostyuchenko and a correspondent for the online news site Takie Dela, Diana Khachatrian -- were detained and held in custody for two hours.

The journalists told RFE/RL that police prevented them from filming the detainment of the protesters, blocking the camera's view and then forcibly taking them to the custody. They said police initially told them that their identification documents were suspicious and later told them that their identities had been established and they were free to go.

The school siege in Beslan followed deadly bombings of two Russian airliners and a Moscow subway station that were blamed on militants from the North Caucasus and precipitated what Kremlin critics say were steps by Putin that curtailed political freedoms.

The commemoration ceremonies will last for three days.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Current Time TV, Novaya Gazeta and takiedela.ru
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