By Andrew Osborn
(RockedBuzz via Reuters) – Masked gunmen attacked and seriously injured a top Russian journalist and lawyer in Russia’s Chechnya region on Tuesday morning after they forced their car to stop, the journalist, her employer and groups said. the rights.
Yelena Milashina, a well-known journalist of the Novaya Gazeta newspaper, was traveling to the Chechen capital Grozny from the local airport with Alexander Nemov, a lawyer, when they were attacked.
Milashina and Nemov, who had planned to attend a court hearing in the case of a woman they believed was being unjustly persecuted for political reasons, were transferred to a hospital in a nearby region and are expected to be flown to Moscow for further care.
“It was a classic kidnapping… They pinned (our driver), threw him out of the car, got in, bowed their heads, tied my hands, made me kneel and pointed a gun at me. gun to the head.” Milashina told Mansur Soltayev, a Chechen human rights official, as she lay in hospital in Grozny before being transferred.
Memorial, a rights group outlawed in Russia, said Milashina and Nemov were “brutally kicked, including in the face, threatened with death, had a gun to their heads and their equipment was taken away and destroyed.” .
“As they were being beaten, they were told, ‘You have been warned. Get out of here and don’t write anything,'” Memorial said in a statement on Telegram.
A photograph of Milashina, whose newspaper was stripped of its license in Russia last year, showed her sitting on a hospital bed with her face covered in green dye thrown at her by her attackers, her head shaved by her attackers and bandages on his left arm and right hand amid reports that several of his fingers had been broken.
The Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin had been briefed on what it called a “very serious attack” that it said needed to be investigated and followed up with “energy measures”.
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, a close ally of Putin, wrote on Telegram: “We will sort it out. I have instructed the relevant services to make every effort to identify the attackers”.
But Soltayev, the Chechen rights official, was quoted by the RIA news agency as calling the attack “a provocation” against Chechen authorities.
Some Russian lawmakers and officials in Moscow condemned the attack and called for an investigation. Russian Human Rights Commissioner Tatyana Moskalkova said those responsible must be punished.
Mokhmad Akhmadov, a senator from Chechnya, was quoted by the RIA as saying he believed Kadyrov would go through with it and that he did not think the attack had been officially sanctioned.
Milashina has spent years investigating alleged human rights abuses in Chechnya, including what she called the mass arrest and torture of gay men in the region, and had already received many threats, including her life.
Her employer evacuated her from Russia last year after Kadyrov described her as a terrorist in a social media post and she was attacked in Chechnya in 2020.
Kadyrov denies the rights violations, saying such allegations are fabricated by evildoers seeking to discredit Chechnya and its authorities.
Rights group ‘Squad Against Torture’ said Nemov, the lawyer accompanying her, had been stabbed in the leg and quoted him for saying the masked attackers used three cars to block the vehicle on which he and Milashina travelled.
Milashina and Nemov, both accused of suffering multiple fractures in the attack, were in Chechnya to cover the conviction of Zarema Musayeva, a Chechen woman accused of assaulting a policeman and fraud – charges she denied – in a case that critics they saw as revenge against her children and husband who were considered disloyal by Kadyrov and fled the country.
A Chechen court on Tuesday found Musayeva guilty and sentenced her to five and a half years in a penal colony.
A Russian court last year stripped Novaya Gazeta, led by Nobel peace laureate Dmitry Muratov, of its media license, a move Muratov said was politically motivated.
(Reporting by Andrew Osborn; editing by Alexandra Hudson, William Maclean)