Russian reporter 'savagely' beaten in Chechnya

05 Jul 2023 09:39am
This handout picture released on July 4, 2023 by Sergei Babinets, the head of the Crew Against Torture, shows Russian investigative journalist Elena Milashina speaking on a mobile phone at a hospital in the Chechen capital Grozny. - Photo by AFP
This handout picture released on July 4, 2023 by Sergei Babinets, the head of the Crew Against Torture, shows Russian investigative journalist Elena Milashina speaking on a mobile phone at a hospital in the Chechen capital Grozny. - Photo by AFP
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MOSCOW - An award-winning Russian investigative journalist is in hospital after being badly beaten by armed assailants during a trip to Chechnya, her newspaper and a rights group said.

The attack happened early on Tuesday as well-known journalist Elena Milashina and Alexander Nemov, a lawyer, were travelling from the airport.

Her newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, published a video of Milashina in hospital with her head shaven and covered in a green-coloured dye -- used to target Kremlin critics -- and her hands bandaged.

She said the attack, which included having a gun held to her head, was linked to her "professional activity in Chechnya."

Milashina has covered rights abuses in Chechnya, the Caucasus republic ruled by former warlord Ramzan Kadyrov, for years.

She came to Grozny on Tuesday to attend the sentencing of Zarema Musayeva, whose husband and sons have fallen foul of the Kadyrov regime, but did not make it there.

"It's a sensitive case," she said, calling Musayeva a "hostage."

Musayeva later was handed 5-and-a-half years on fraud charges widely seen as political revenge against her family.

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Milashina recounted the attack in a video shared by Novaya Gazeta:

"They came, they threw out the driver, the taxi driver from the car. They jumped in, pushed our heads down, they tied my hands, put us on our knees with a gun to the head," she said.

"They did everything nervously. They didn't manage to tie my hands properly."

The Memorial human rights group said the pair were "savagely" beaten.

She said she was taken to neighbouring Ossetia for safety and the newspaper said she will go back to Moscow once a medical team examines her.

'Not welcome'

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters during a briefing that President Vladimir Putin had been informed.

"We are talking about a very serious attack that requires vigorous measures," Peskov said.

Kadyrov, who has been accused of persistent rights abuses in his restive region, said in a statement online he had instructed officials to determine who was behind the attack.

"The authorities began to work immediately after the announcement of the incident," the statement read.

But his rights ombudsman Mansur Soltayev said Milashina was "not welcome by a large part of the public" in Chechnya.

He said this was especially true during Moscow's Ukraine offensive, during which "the Chechen nation supports the efforts of the president of Russia."

The media rights group Reporters Without Borders said it was "horrified by the savage attack" on Milashina.

And the rights group Amnesty International urged Russia to investigate the "vicious" beating.

Milashina's paper Novaya Gazeta, Russia's top independent publication, said she and Nemov were in hospital in the Chechen capital Grozny.

Novaya Gazeta in February last year said that Milashina had to leave Russia temporarily after receiving death threats from the Chechen leadership.

The paper, whose chief editor Dmitry Muratov won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021, has since 2000 seen six journalists and contributors killed, including investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya.

By focusing on rights abuses in Chechnya, Milashina has followed in the footsteps of Politkovskaya, a fierce critic of the Kremlin's policies in Chechnya, who was shot dead in 2006.

Russian human rights commissioner Tatyana Moskalkova was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying that the incident "should be carefully investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice". - AFP

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