Many women in Russia's volatile Chechnya region said on Friday they had been harassed and some physically harmed by bands of men for not wearing headscarves during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
Against the backdrop of a spreading Islamist insurgency, many fear that growing interest in radical Islam could fuel separatism in the volatile North Caucasus, where the Kremlin watches uneasily as sharia law eclipses Russian.
Residents and witnesses told Reuters that bearded men in traditional Islamic dress have been roaming the streets both on foot and in cars since Ramadan started on Aug. 11, demanding bare-headed women wear a headscarf.
"Two men came up to me, one furiously fingering a prayer bead, and said it wasn't pretty to have a bare head during Ramadan," 38-year old Markha Atabayeva told Reuters in the Chechen capital Grozny. "They instilled such fear in me".