It was a lovely summer day in 2010 when Louiza was walking down Putin Avenue, the main street in Grozny, chatting to a friend.
The two young women wore light blouses with sleeves to the elbow and skirts a little below the knee. Their hair was loose. Suddenly a car with no license plates stopped next to them. They saw the side window roll down and a gun barrel stare Louiza in the face.
Louiza was paralyzed with fear and saw nothing but the gun barrel’s black hole. When she heard the shots, she told Human Rights Watch that she thought, “This is death.” Something hit Louiza in the chest and she was thrown against the wall of a building. Her chest burned with pain, but gradually the pain lessened, and she saw a strange green splattering on the wall and a big green stain expanding on her blouse. A similar ugly blotch stained her friend’s skirt. Then Louiza understood the shooter was using not bullets, but pellets filled with paint.
Unknown men dressed like law enforcement officials had shot Louiza and her friend with paintball guns for not observing a compulsory Islamic dress code, in other words, for wearing clothes deemed to be revealing and not keeping their hair covered.
Dozens more women in Chechnya were subjected to similar attacks in summer 2010.
The paintball attacks came several years into a quasi-official, though extra-legal, “virtue campaign” in Chechnya.
As part of this campaign, local authorities prohibit women from working in the public sector if they do not wear headscarves. Education authorities require female students to wear headscarves in schools and universities. When going out women have to be covered at entertainment venues, cinemas, and even outdoor areas. Though there is no basis in Chechen law, the rules are strictly enforced.
They are also publicly supported by the leader of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov.
Kadyrov has made the “virtue campaign” for women a policy priority since 2006. He made numerous public statements, including on Chechen television, regarding the need for women to adhere to “modesty laws,” by, among other things, wearing a headscarf and following men’s orders. He has described women as men’s “property” and publicly condoned honor killings.
However Kadryov himself appears to have his own moral standards.
Born in October 1976, former rebel and amateur boxer Ramzan Kadyrov became prime minister of Chechnya in 2005 and president in April 2007.
Kadyrov was previously head of security for his father Akhmad Kadyrov, a pro-Moscow president of Chechnya elected in 2003.
The president is known for his colourful lifestyle.
He keeps big cats in a personal zoo near his mansion, owns a gold-plated handgun and often performs traditional Chechen dances in public.
Kadyrov has amassed a large personal militia, which numbers in the thousands.
The head of the Russian human rights group Memorial, Oleg Orlov, has accused Kadyrov of running a totalitarian regime.
Kadyrov says his forces have brought security to a region wracked by two separatist wars since 1994.
He is credited by the Kremlin for keeping insurgents in check in Chechnya amid a growing Islamist insurgency across the North Caucasus, though rights groups say he has done so through violence.
The leader made international headlines in April 2010 when Austrian investigators said they believed Kadyrov ordered the kidnapping of a Chechen exile in Vienna, who subsequently died. The revelation followed accusations from police in Dubai, who had accused a close adviser to Kadyrov, Adam Delimkhanov, of masterminding the killing in the Emirates of another Chechen rival.
Delimkhanov has denied involvement.
Kadyrov won a civil libel suit in 2009 against Memorial head Orlov, who was ordered to retract a statement that the Chechen leader was responsible for the murder of prominent rights activist Natalia Estemirova in July 2009.
Natalia Estermirova was abducted on 15 July 2009 from her home in Grozny, Chechnya. Two witnesses reportedly saw her being pushed into a car shouting that she was being abducted. Her body was found later that day in woodland 50 miles away. She had been shot in the head and chest.
Natalia had been investigating human rights abuses in Chechnya. According to the New York Times, she had spent decades documenting kidnappings and killings that she linked to the Chechen president, Ramzan A. Kadyrov, and brutal methods used to bring separatists under control in the country.
According to Tanya Lokshina, from Human Rights Watch, Natalia was abducted as she was working on "extremely sensitive" cases of human rights abuses in Chechnya. Lokshina said that she had been targeted for her professional activities. “There are good grounds to believe that people in high official positions could be involved."
Natalia's murder came 3 years after the death of Anna Politkovskaya in 2006. Natalia had worked closely with Anna Politkovskaya and human rights activist and lawyer Stanislav Yuryevich Markelov who was murdered in 2009.
Anna Stepanovna Politkovskaya was a Russian journalist, author and human rights activist who was well known for her opposition to the Chechen conflict.
On 7 October 2006 she was shot dead in the lift of her block of flats, an unsolved assassination.
During her work she had been threatened many times.
In 2004, Anna met Ramzan Kadyrov. One of his assistants said to her, "Someone ought to have shot you back in Moscow, right on the street, like they do in your Moscow".
In her last interview she described Kadyrov, as the "Chechen Stalin of our days".
Rather than bringing to justice the killers of Anna and Natalia the trial continues of a colleague of theirs, Oleg Orlov, chairman of Memorial, one of Russia’s foremost human rights organizations.
Oleg had made a statement accusing Ramzan Kadyrov of "being responsible" for the murder of Natalia Estemirova. In the statement published on Memorial’s website on 15 July, the day of Natalia Estemirova’s killing, Oleg said:
"We don’t know whether he [Kadyrov] gave the order himself or this was done by his aides to please their boss."
In 2009 Oleg Orlov and Memorial lost a libel case brought by President Kadyrov.
Oleg is now charged with slander and faces a three year prison sentence
“Of course, I don’t want to go to prison and lose my freedom.
“But those words that I said were only a minimal debt owed to the murdered Natasha Estemirova. This was the least that I could do for the memory of my deceased comrade and friend.
"I had to do it. I told the truth.”
Human Rights Watch: Russia: Chechnya Enforcing Islamic Dress Code
New York Times: In Russia, an Advocate Is Killed, and an Accuser Tried