(Moscow) – Russian authorities should carry out a prompt and effective investigation into the vicious beating by unknown assailants of Elena Milashina, a prominent Russian journalist and human rights defender, Human Rights Watch said today.
Shortly after midnight on April 5, 2012, two men attacked Milashina, a journalist with the leading Russian independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, and a friend. The attack took place near Milashina’s home in the Moscow suburb of Balashikha. Her friend was passing through Moscow and staying with Milashina for the night.
“When a courageous journalist who works in a hostile environment is attacked, the authorities need to examine whether what may look like common mugging could be linked to her professional activity,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “In either case, the authorities need to take immediate steps to identify the attackers and hold them to account.”
Milashina told Human Rights Watch that the attackers kicked and punched her, primarily on her head. She had multiple bruises, including over a dozen hematomas on her head, and lost a tooth. The attackers also punched her friend several times, but Milashina appeared to be their primary target. The attackers took Milashina’s wallet and her friend’s laptop computer. They also tried to grab Milashina’s backpack with her laptop but she put up resistance. Then three passersby intervened and the attackers walked away.
After the brutal murder of Anna Politkovskaya, Novaya Gazeta’s star correspondent, in 2006, Milashina picked up her mantle, reporting on human rights abuses in Russia’s turbulent North Caucasus region, including Chechnya. When Natalia Estemirova, a leading Chechen human rights defender and Milashina’s close collaborator, was brazenly murdered in July 2009, she started an independent investigation into the killing. Novaya Gazeta told Human Rights Watch that they do not exclude the possibility that the attack on Milashina was linked to her professional activity. In recent years, Milashina has received numerous threats in connection to her reporting.
Milashina called the police once the assailants fled, around 12:40 a.m. After waiting for about 30 minutes, she and her friend went to Milashina’s home. Milashina was bleeding and feeling weak. At 2 a.m., they received a call from the three women who had helped them earlier and to whom they had given their phone numbers, informing them that the police had arrived at the scene of the attack.
Milashina and her friend went back to the site and saw a police car with police officers questioning one of the witnesses. The police officers remained in the car, ignoring Milashina and her friend. They waited another 15 minutes in the cold and decided to return home. The police officers followed them soon after and caught up to them near Milashina’s house.
Milashina said that one of the police officers leaned out of the car and suggested taking them to a hospital to document their injuries. However, Milashina said, she felt the police official spoke rudely to her and was not sincere in his offer of help. Exhausted and in pain from the beating and long wait outside, Milashina and her friend returned to Milashina’s home. The next morning, Milashina went to a hospital to get a medical report. She and her friend also gave statements to the police. A preliminary inquiry into the attack is in progress.
“We are troubled by the fact that the police seemed to take an inexplicably long time to get to the scene of the attack and seemed not to make it a priority to get medical assistance for Milashina and her friend, who were clearly suffering,” Williamson said.
The Russian authorities should conduct a full and impartial investigation into the attack on Milashina and her friend, Human Rights Watch said. The reason for the reported 90-minute delay between the time the emergency call was placed and the police car’s arrival at the scene, and the police procedures once they arrived, should also be investigated.
In 2009, Human Rights Watch awarded Elena Milashina one of the organization’s prestigious Alison Des Forges Awards. The awards, given annually, celebrate the valor of individuals who put their lives on the line to protect the dignity and rights of others.