We, 13 Russian and international human rights organizations, express outrage at the vicious attack on an independent journalist and a human rights lawyer on their way to attending a court hearing in Grozny, Chechnya on July 4, 2023.
Elena Milashina, a journalist with Novaya Gazeta, a leading Russian independent media outlet, and Alexander Nemov, a human rights lawyer, received serious injuries. Russian authorities should carry out a prompt, impartial and effective investigation into the assault, appropriately prosecute those responsible, and take all necessary steps to end impunity for attacks on journalists, human rights defenders and others deemed critical of the Chechen and Russian authorities.
Milashina and Nemov arrived in Grozny early on July 4 to attend a hearing at the Akhmatovsky district court, which was scheduled to announce the verdict in the politically motivated case against Zarema Mussaeva prosecuted on bogus charges of fraud and assault of a police officer. In January 2022, Chechen authorities had jailed Mussaeva to put pressure on her two sons who had spoken out against Chechnya’s governor, Ramzan Kadyrov. Nemov, who works closely with the Crew Against Torture, a leading Russian rights group, is Mussaeva’s defense attorney. Milashina has been reporting on the case for Novaya Gazeta. Hours after the attack on Milashina and Nemov, without her lawyer present, Mussaeva was found guilty and sentenced to five-and-a-half years in prison.
At around 5 a.m., Milashina and Nemov were traveling by taxi from Grozny airport to the city, when armed men in balaclavas, arriving in three vehicles, dragged them out of their car, threatened to kill them, beat them with booted feet and sticks, smashed their electronic devices, and left them bleeding on the ground. The attackers poured bright green antiseptic solution over Milashina’s head and shaved off her hair, apparently to humiliate her. Both were admitted to the Grozny City Hospital #9 with severe bruises and multiple injuries. Milashina suffered a concussion and several finger fractures. Nemov’s right lower leg was pierced with a sharp object.
According to Sergey Babinets from the Crew Against Torture, who was also in Grozny for Mussaeva’s court hearing and visited Milashina and Nemov in the hospital, the perpetrators told Milashina and Nemov that the beating was in retaliation for their work on Mussaeva’s case. Novaya Gazeta arranged for the medical evacuation of Milashina and Nemov and, at the time of writing, they are receiving medical treatment outside of Chechnya.
Authorities in Chechnya have been mounting a violent campaign against human rights defenders and journalists with complete impunity for over a decade, aiming to stop them from shedding light on abuses and providing assistance to victims. Natalia Estemirova, a senior representative of Memorial, Russia’s key civil society organization, was abducted and killed in retaliation for her human rights work in 2009. Activists of the Joint Mobile Group of human rights defenders in Chechnya, which played a crucial role in providing legal aid to victims of abuses by local security officials in the years after Estemirova’s murder, were subjected to numerous attacks between 2014 and 2016. Mobsters, apparently acting on the orders of Chechen authorities, attacked and destroyed the Joint Mobile Group’s office twice. All of these attacks have been carried out with complete impunity, forcing the group to withdraw from Chechnya due to security concerns. In 2018, Chechen authorities arrested the head of Memorial’s Grozny office, Oyub Titiev, on bogus drug possession charges. Titiev spent 17 months behind bars until his release on parole in June 2019. In 2020, a group of thugs, apparently sponsored by Chechen authorities, physically attacked Elena Milashina and Marina Dubrovina, a human rights lawyer, who were planning to attend another politically motivated trial.
None of these heinous attacks has been effectively investigated by the Russian authorities. The Kremlin has not responded to the numerous inflammatory statements by Ramzan Kadyrov in which he identified human rights defenders and journalists as “enemies,” “traitors,” and “terrorists” that he threatened to “destroy.” There has also been no response to the ferocious smear campaign against human rights defenders and journalists in state-sponsored Chechen media.
We are calling on the Russian government to hold to account the perpetrators of the July 4 attack on Milashina and Nemov, carry out effective and impartial investigations into the past attacks on journalists, human rights defenders and critics of the government, and ensure that Ramzan Kadyrov and other Chechen authorities cease the harassment, threats and persecution of human rights defenders, journalists, and others.
Civic Assistance Committee
Conflict Analysis and Prevention Center
Crew Against Torture
Crisis Center Marem
Crisis Group North Caucasus SOS
Front Line Defenders
Human Rights Watch
International Federation for Human Rights
International Protection Center
Mass Media Defence Center
Memorial Human Rights Defense Center
Norwegian Helsinki Committee