Elena Milashina

(Moscow) – A quasi-official Chechen media outlet has issued apparent death threats against a veteran Russian investigative journalist, Human Rights Watch said today. The Russian authorities should promptly and impartially investigate the apparent threats.

In a May 19, 2015 editorial, Grozny Inform, which is the Chechen Republic’s most widely read media outlet and closely linked to the republic’s leadership, intoned that Elena Milashina could meet the same fate as Anna Politkovskaya, the Novaya Gazeta journalist murdered in 2006, and Boris Nemtsov, the Russian political opposition leader murdered in February 2015. The editorial claimed both killings were provocations by the United States and Israeli intelligence services, among others, in a bid to destabilize Russia.

Grozny Inform is telling Milashina that she’s no different from a murdered journalist and opposition leader,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Given the timing of the editorial, the nature of Milashina’s work, and Grozny Inform’s links to Chechnya’s leadership, Russian authorities should treat this as a serious death threat.”

Noting that Politkovskaya received awards from “Americans and Europeans” for “constantly vilifying her country,” the editorial warned that Milashina, also a recipient of international awards, could be killed for the same reasons.

Toward the end of the lengthy editorial, the author suggested that nameless forces were preparing the ground for Milashina to be victimized “…[I]f you go through all the potential victims, then by all indications, the latest hero who will pay for their life for ‘the defense of human rights’ in Russia will be our Novaya Gazeta special correspondent. It was not at all an accident that Secretary of State John Kerry gave Milashina the International Women of Courage award for her journalistic investigation. Let’s hope that it is not posthumous...” the editorial said, as translated by The Interpreter, an online outlet that provides news and analysis about Russia.

Milashina told Human Rights Watch she believed the editorial is “saying I’ll be killed and it’s been decided…. It’s a new sort of a death threat – not by phone, not by SMS, not by email but rather published in a state-sponsored media outlet…. It’s an attempt to silence me by threats, death threats actually, to prevent me from continuing my Chechnya reporting.”

For years Milashina has been targeted due to her outspoken accounts of enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, and torture in Novaya Gazeta, Russia’s leading independent newspaper.

Earlier in 2015, several officials at a checkpoint in Chechnya told Milashina she had better “watch out” while reporting in Chechnya on the arranged polygamous marriage of a 17-year-old Chechen girl to a Chechen police chief close to Ramzan Kadyrov, head of the Chechen Republic. Those threats led Novaya Gazeta to formally demand an investigation, as well as temporarily bar its journalists from traveling to Chechnya.

In 2012, two men assaulted Milashina and a friend in what appeared to be a targeted attack in Moscow, leaving her with over a dozen bruises on her head and a missing tooth. Her attackers also robbed her and fled the scene when passersby intervened. The police investigation was half-hearted.

Russian authorities should publicly denounce the Grozny Inform editorial and investigate possible incitement to violence or other violations of Russian law, Human Rights Watch said.

In 2009, Human Rights Watch awarded Milashina its prestigious Alison Des Forges Award. The awards, given annually, celebrate the valor of individuals who put their lives on the line to protect the dignity and rights of others.

“No journalist should have to accept threats to their physical safety as a part of the job,” Williamson said.