Igot Kalyapin, Joint Mobile Group of Russian human rights defenders in Chechnya, and Tanya Lokshina, Human Rights Watch immediately after the attack at the press-conference. Copyright: Yulia Orlova, Human Rights Center "Memorial" December 11, 2014.

(Moscow) – A mob of unidentified people attacked a leading Russian human rights defender on March 16, 2016, in Chechnya, Human Rights Watch said today.

The attackers hit Igor Kalyapin, head of an independent Russian human rights group called the Committee for the Prevention of Torture, as he was leaving his hotel in Grozny, the capital. They also pelted him with eggs, and threw flour and bright antiseptic liquid on him, which stained his face and clothes. The attack came a week after a group of masked men brutally beat six journalists and two members of Kalyapin’s group traveling together from neighboring Ingushetia to Chechnya.

“The attack on Igor Kalyapin shows again that it’s open season on human rights defenders in Chechnya,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities’ utter failure to hold anyone to account for a series of vicious attacks in recent years is like a bright green light for further attacks.”

Kalyapin had gone to Chechnya to meet with journalists to discuss the March 9 attack. At about 7:30 pm, on March 16, an administrator at the Grozny Citi Hotel, where Kalyapin was staying, went to his room accompanied by a security guard, and another middle-aged man, and told Kalyapin he had to leave the hotel. Kalyapin told Mediazona, an independent Russian online news outlet, that the administrator told Kalyapin that he was being told to leave because of the “unpleasant things” Kalyapin had said about Chechnya’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov.

Kalyapin gathered his belongings and left the hotel. As soon as he got outside, the mob of men, who were clearly waiting for him, attacked him, and then fled. Dmitry Utukin, a lawyer with the committee, told Human Rights Watch that Kalyapin was not seriously injured. Police eventually appeared at the scene and took Kalyapin to the city police station for questioning. Kalyapin told Human Rights Watch that police took his statement and photographed all of his clothing. A federal investigator came to the police station at Kalyapin’s request, and both of them left Chechnya together.

Unidentified attackers had pelted Kalyapin with eggs once before, at a news conference in Moscow in December 2014.

The Committee for the Prevention of Torture, a Nizhny Novgorod-based group, was one of the founders and participants of the Joint Mobile Group of Russian Human Rights Groups in Chechnya in 2009. The Joint Mobile Group was founded following a wave of killings of activists in the region.

The March 16 attack was the fourth in the last 15 months on Joint Mobile Group staff and offices in the North Caucasus. In addition to the March 9 attack, on June 3, 2015, unidentified people in masks forced their way into the organization’s office in Grozny, destroying the contents of the office and forcing its staff out. On December 13, 2014, unidentified attackers set fire to the office. The next day, Chechen police without a warrant ransacked the office and took mobile phones, several cameras, laptop computers, and other electronic equipment. They also conducted body searches of the two Joint Mobile Group employees who worked there and searched their car. No one has been held accountable for these attacks.

President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, called the March 9 attack “absolutely outrageous” and said the Kremlin was counting on local law enforcement to “take the most effective measures to find the perpetrators, in order to ensure the safety of human rights defenders and journalists.”

“The pattern here is so painfully clear,” Williamson said. “Russia’s federal authorities should be making sure that credible, effective investigations into these attacks in fact take place.”

*An earlier version of this release described incorrectly how Igor Kalyapin was told to leave his hotel. Kalyapin later clarified the circumstances, saying that three men – the hotel administrator, a security guard, and another middle-aged man – came to his room and escorted him out of the hotel. They were not armed. The news release was corrected to reflect this.