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Thousands Rally in Chechnya In Support of Leader

Chechen demonstrators gathered during a massive rally in Grozny, Chechnya Republic, in support of strongman leader Ramzan Kadyrov and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Jan. 22, 2016.

Thousands of people took to the streets of Russia's Chechen capital of Grozny Friday to show their support for the region's pro-Kremlin leader, Ramzan Kadyrov and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Kadyrov has been a strong supporter of Putin. The Chechen leader has said in recent weeks that opposition activists and independent journalists should be sent to top psychiatric hospitals or prosecuted as traitors.

The Kremlin has given Kadyrov broad support.

Critics say the large turnout in Grozny was boosted by state workers and students who were ordered to attend by state-run institutions. State authorities, however, deny the accusation.

Kadyrov who has held the post of president of Russia's Chechen Republic for nine years, rang in the new year by lashing out at Chechen immigrants who took to the streets in Vienna, Austria, on Christmas Eve to protest against his rule.

Declaring in a New Year's Eve address that "it is our custom that a brother answers for a brother," Kadyrov said he had given the order to find out whether the protesters "have brothers and fathers, which clan they belong to, where they were born, and who they are."

The Chechen ruler added, every available resource would be used to ensure that the relatives of the protesters "sort them out."

Kadyrov is known for publicly reprimanding fellow citizens who criticize the status quo in the republic. Last December, Chechen resident Aishat Inaeva complained in an Internet posting that officials were using violence to collect housing and utilities payments. Kadyrov forced her to appear on TV and recant.

Human rights organizations say Kadyrov has established a regime of personal power in the republic. The work of human rights activists in Chechnya is extremely complicated. They are threatened with physical violence, threats which are sometimes acted on. In December 2014, the office of the Joint Mobile Group of Russian human rights defenders in the Chechen capital Grozny was destroyed in an arson attack.