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Ethnic Tensions Still High In Moscow In Wake Of Suspected Killer's Arrest

  • Claire Bigg
  • Arifa Kazimova

Azerbaijani national Orkhan Zeynalov, seen in detention in Moscow on October 15, is a suspect in the murder one week earlier of Yegor Shcherbakov.

Azerbaijani national Orkhan Zeynalov, seen in detention in Moscow on October 15, is a suspect in the murder one week earlier of Yegor Shcherbakov.

Footage detailing the heavy-handed arrest of an Azerbaijani native suspected of killing a Russian man in Moscow has escalated mounting ethnic tensions between the two nations.

Russian police detained Orkhan Zeynalov on October 15 on suspicion of fatally stabbing a 25-year-old ethnic Russian man, Yegor Shcherbakov, in front of the victim's girlfriend last week in a southern suburb of Moscow.

The killing has sparked violent riots against migrant workers in the Biryulyovo suburb during which hundreds of protesters were detained.

Soon after Zeynalov's arrest, several videos showing police beating and parading the suspect were aired on Russian television, sparking condemnation in Azerbaijan over the Hollywood-style arrest.

Here's one example:​

The videos, which have been making the rounds on the Internet, show Zeynalov screaming as police special forces kick him and pin him to the ground with their boots.

The officers then try to make Zeynalov admit his guilt while the camera hovers close to this face.

Unable to obtain a confession, they pull him to his feet and slap him before shoving him into a police van.

ALSO READ: Russian Police Detain Azeri Suspect In Killing That Sparked Clashes

One clip shows an officer patting Zeynalov on the back as he lies facedown on the floor of the van, where he is once again interrogated on camera.

The 30-year-old migrant is later flown to central Moscow by helicopter, where he is shown lying facedown on the ground with his hands cuffed behind his back and a white cloth thrown over his head.

In the video, suspect Orkhan Zeynalov is marched in front of Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev (left).

In the video, suspect Orkhan Zeynalov is marched in front of Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev (left).

After a stint in a cell, he is eventually brought before Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev, who is seen congratulating the officers.

Independent Azerbaijani media have criticized Zeynalov's theatrical arrest as deliberately humiliating and accused Russian police of "torturing" him.

The "Azadliq" newspaper quoted prominent lawyer Aslan Ismayilov as saying that "if the Russian government had some respect for the Azerbaijani authorities, they wouldn't behave like that."

Eldar Samadov, the Azerbaijani Interior Ministry's representative in Russia, has described the publications of the videos as an unjustified measure that could cause further frictions.

"Such murders are committed frequently," he said. "We don't understand why they are demonstratively showing these videos over and over again."

He said "thousands of Azerbaijanis" living in Moscow could face retaliation for the killing.

RELATED: Nationalist Riots In Moscow Send Fear Through Muslim Migrant Communities

An Azerbaijani citizen was found dead on October 16 from an apparent stabbing in Moscow's eastern Izmailovo district. It was the second killing of a non-Russian in as many days. One day earlier, a 51-year-old Uzbek national was found dead with multiple stab wounds in the same Biryulyovo district where Shcherbakov's death occurred.

Authorities in Baku have yet to comment officially on Zeynalov's detention.

His parents have suggested their son's case was "pre-planned," presumably by Russian security services.

Ethnic tensions were most palpable on social-networking sites, where news of Zeynalov's arrest has unleashed hate-filled exchanges between ethnic Russians and Azerbaijanis.

Zeynalov's purported account on VKontakte, Russia's biggest social-networking site, has gathered almost 900 comments since he was identified as the prime suspect on October 14 -- many of them racist slurs.

"Migrants kill people, rape our Russian women and children!" writes one user.

"All the blacks in Russia will suffer, so take your compatriots away, you mountain bastard," read a comment, while another user predicts that "Biryulyovo will become a symbol of Russian resistance."

The tone was just as virulent on Azerbaijan's social websites, with many slamming Zeynalov's arrest as disproportionate.

"Police in all authoritarian regimes act in such an ugly and brutal manner," one Facebook user reacted.

Many Internet users in Azerbaijan also voiced concern for the safety of their compatriots in Russia.

Advocacy groups in Russia have warned migrant workers from the Caucasus and Central Asia of a high risk of violence, particularly as Azerbaijanis and other Muslim immigrants celebrate the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha.

Police have set up barriers and metal detectors outside Moscow's main mosque.
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    Claire Bigg

    Claire Bigg covers Russia, Ukraine, and the post-Soviet world, with a focus on human rights, civil society, and social issues. Send story tips to BiggC@rferl.org​


     

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