Three women have been arrested in Chechnya this weekend during the Halloween period accused of sorcery and witchcraft
Local state television reported that three "witches" had been "caught red handed." The television station stated that they had been found to be in possession of maps, tarot cards and a magical stone that one of them had brought from the Buddhist region of Kalmykia into the Islamic republic.
It is unclear if the three women practised folk medicine, or if the arrests were to cover up some other type of repression which is sometimes the case in the largely lawless republic that is headed by Ramzan Kadyrov.
Grozny TV’s lengthy investigation revealed 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 services. 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," interjected 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 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.
The 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 co-operation with local law enforcement. ("It’s impossible to work otherwise," he says.) The methods he employed depend on what is wrong with the women — they are always women – and if they are mentally ill or possessed.
"We use oils, smoke inhalations, and the palms of our hands," he says. "And we read Koranic 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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