Last night, a group of thugs in Grozny attacked human rights lawyer Marina Dubrovina and investigative journalist Elena Milashina – the latest in a long history of attacks on rights defenders which bear the hallmarks of being endorsed by Chechen authorities and tolerated by the Kremlin.
Dubrovina arrived in Chechnya on Thursday for a client’s court hearing. She’s representing a blogger who was tortured and jailed on bogus weapon possession charges in retaliation for posting a video about the opulent lifestyle of the head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, and his associates. Milashina, who covers the case for Novaya Gazeta, joined Dubrovina in Grozny.
When they returned to their hotel, Kontinental, just after 11 p.m., they saw a group of 15 women and men in the lobby. Several of the women surrounded them next to the elevator. “One said that we came here to defend [Islamic radicals],” said Milashina in her statement to the police. “I smiled and said no. Another woman asked who we came to defend and before I had the time to answer she hit me hard in the face. Then, the whole crowd started beating us...” The assailants threw Milashina and Dubrovina to the floor, kicking and punching them and hitting their heads against the marble floor. The men spoke as if they were in charge; one of them was also filming.
When the attackers fled the hotel ten minutes later, Milashina and Dubrovina took a taxi to a hospital for treatment and medical documentation of their bruises and abrasions. Then, they filed police reports stating that the attack was work-related and sponsored by local authorities.
There is every reason to believe that Chechen authorities are behind this vile attack. For more than a decade, they have been wielding a war on human rights defenders, branding them as “enemies” and “terrorists,” jailing them, destroying their offices, and forcing them to leave Chechnya.
Despite repeated appeals by its key international interlocuters, the Russian government has done nothing to rein in Chechnya’s leadership. Yesterday’s attack is starkly reminiscent of the attack on Igor Kalyapin, the head of a leading Russian anti-torture group, in another hotel in Grozny almost four years earlier. There has been no effective investigation of that attack – just like many other attacks, threats, and abuses. Today, responding to the attack, the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner called on Russian authorities to “ensure that human rights defenders can work safely and freely.” Unless they pay heed, the next attack is only a matter of time.