Brutal attack against human rights defenders in Grozny

The office of the Joint Mobile Group in Grozny, Chechnya, was earlier today on 3 June attacked by a group of masked men.

They broke into the office by climbing through the window and balcony, and starting smashing the contents. On the street outside, an angry mob had gathered for a while, shouting slogans. The Joint Mobile Group’s car has also been destroyed.

The Joint Mobile Group (LMG) is a human rights group which seeks accountability for human rights abuses in Chechnya, notably enforced disappearances, torture in custody, and extra-judicial executions. JMG is coordinated by the Russian NGO Committee Against Torture and works with human rights lawyers who volunteer to investigate abuses in Chechnya itself. These lawyers go to Chechnya for short periods and then leave again, for security reasons. This has allowed them to investigate abduction, torture, disappearances and murders.

The JMG staff managed to escape through the window, and they are according to reports in safety. The local police and interior forces have been alerted, but have yet to appear on the spot for protection or crowd control, or even respond to the calls. Ombudsperson of Russia Ella Pamfilova, as well as head of the Human Rights Council of the President, Mikhail Fedotov, has also been informed. The tense situation in Chechnya today illustrates that it is far from the image of resolved conflict that the authorities of the Russian Federation have attempted to present.

-Russian Federation law enforcement bodies must protect human rights defenders undergoing the attack in Groznyy, says NHCs Secretary general Bjørn Engesland. – Further, this latest attack must be addressed and investigated by the proper investigation bodies, and the impunity addressed at a higher level. The impunity prevailing in Chechnya is growing in gravity and intensity. It is of utmost importance that the law enforcement bodies of the Russian Federation follow their obligation to protect its citizens and in particular human rights defenders by responding to the calls for assistance, Engesland says.

Norwegian authorities, the EU, the Council of Europe and the international community as a whole should  demand that Russian authorities stop preventing civil society groups from doing their work, that they withdraw unconstitutional laws which complicate the work of NGOs further, and provide both physical and legal protection to human rights defenders and the vulnerable groups they defend.

Today’s attack is the latest in a row of events that demonstrate the instable situation in Chechnya and North Caucasus, fuelled by the impunity in the region. Less than six months ago, the previous office of the Joint Mobile Group was arsoned, and all contents disappeared in the fire except one file that was left open on a desk as a demonstration. The arson attack followed a dispute between Igor Kalyapin, the head of the Committee against Torture in Chechnya and Ramzan Kadyrov, the president of Chechnya.

Two weeks ago, formed political prisoner and oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovskiy’s organization Open Russia published a movie called “The family”, describing the control Chechnya President Ramzan Kadyrov holds over the republic. In response, Kadyrov released an alleged trailer on his Instagram profile, with him sporting a machine gun and being chased by military vehicles in a river bed. The title: “Who hasn’t understood, will understand”.

Also adding to the tension is the recent incident where police from Stavropol killed the Chechen businessman Dzhabrail Dadaev during his attempted arrest in Chechnya. Kadyrov responded to this with statements, encouraging the use of weapon against representatives from law-enforcement bodies coming from other regions of Russia. In addition, the blame is directed towards all the critics or independent voices in Russia in general and North Caucasus in particular.

-Although Kadyrov has lately modified his words, today’s events already illustrate how the signals sent by the head of the republic can be perceived as an incentive to action, says Engesland. Today’s attack falls into the already dark picture of massive attack on civil society organisations in the country, fuelled by the impunity that is allowed to prevail. The Russian Federation must take action to address this in line with its international obligations – in concrete protective actions today.