MOSCOW - Rights campaigners accused authorities in Russia's Chechnya region of meting out "collective punishment" by burning down the homes of suspected militants in retribution for a gun attack last week.
At least 25 people were killed in the attack and a subsequent shootout in the regional capital Grozny last Thursday, the bloodiest fighting in months in Chechnya where Moscow has reasserted control after two wars against Islamist insurgents in the 1990s.
Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-installed leader of the predominantly Muslim region, said after the attack that families of militants who kill would be expelled from Chechnya and their houses demolished.
"He announces collective responsibility and collective punishment, which runs against the Russian constitution, Russian law, against Russia's international obligations," Tatiana Lokshina, a director at Human Rights Watch in Russia, told a news conference on Thursday.
The conference was interrupted twice by men throwing eggs at the speakers or accusing them of bias against Kadyrov.
In a Dec. 5 Instagram posting, Kadyrov said: "If a rebel in Chechnya kills a police worker or another person, the family of the rebel will be swiftly expelled from Chechnya with no right to return, and [their] home will be destroyed.
The rights activists said six homes of suspected militants had been razed since Kadyrov's statement, four of which did not belong to gunmen whose bodies were among those identified after last week's battle.
"The law and the Russian constitution do not exist in Chechnya. Chechnya's only law is formulated by Ramzan's [Kadyrov's] orders," said rights campaigner Svetlana Gannushkina.
"Collective punishment, this is the logic of terrorists. If the state reverts to the logic of terrorists, it becomes a terrorist state."
Kadyrov said 14 policemen were killed in Grozny. Russia's anti-terrorism Committee earlier said 10 policemen and 10 militants were killed, and 28 servicemen wounded. One civilian also died.
Russian President Vladimir Putin praised Kadyrov for his response to the attack in Chechnya, where the volatile security situation is a sensitive issue for the Kremlin.