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Journalist, Rights Lawyer Brutally Attacked in Chechnya

Russian and International Rights Groups Call for Accountability

Elena Milashina © 2009 Patricia Williams

Today, a group of armed thugs in Chechnya’s capital, Grozny, attacked Elena Milashina, a prominent journalist and a recipient of Human Right Watch’s award for extraordinary activism, and Alexander Nemov, a human rights lawyer. Both had been working on the case of Zarema Mussaeva, who was being tried on apparent politically motivated charges.

Milashina and Nemov were on their way to court when men in black balaclavas dragged them out of their car, held them at gun point, threatened to kill them, kicked and beat them with sticks, and smashed their electronic devices. The attackers poured a bright green solution over Milashina’s head and shaved off her hair. In Chechnya, forcibly shaving a woman’s head is viewed as a particularly degrading form of punishment. Both have multiple injuries. Milashina suffered a concussion and several finger fractures. Nemov’s right leg was pierced with a sharp object, leaving him unable to walk.

Milashina’s newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, arranged for the medical evacuation of Milashina and Nemov, and they are now receiving medical treatment outside of Chechnya.

Elena Milashina in a hospital in Grozny, Chechnya after being violently attack on July 4, 2023. © 2023 Sergey Babinets, Crew Against Torture

Milashina and Nemov were in Grozny for Mussaeva’s trial. She was being prosecuted on bogus charges of fraud and assault of a police officer. In January 2022, Chechen authorities had jailed her to put pressure on her two sons, who have spoken out against Chechnya’s governor, Ramzan Kadyrov. Nemov, who works closely with the Crew Against Torture, a leading Russian human rights organization, is Mussaeva’s defense attorney. Later today, when Nemov was being treated in a hospital following the brutal attack, the court found Mussaeva guilty and sentenced her to five-and-a-half years in prison.

According to Sergey Babinets, from Crew Against Torture, who visited Milashina and Nemov in the hospital, they said their assailants told them that the beating was in retaliation for their work on Mussaeva’s case.

Following the 2009 murder of Natalia Estemirova, a senior representative of Memorial, Russia’s leading human rights organization, Ramzan Kadyrov unleashed all-out assault on human rights defenders and journalists working to expose abuses in Chechnya. Violent attacks, including Milashina’s previous beating in Grozny in 2020, fabricated prosecutions, death threats, and ferocious smear campaigns have been undertaken with complete impunity.

Human Rights Watch, together with 13 Russian and international rights groups, is calling on the Russian government to promptly, credibly, and impartially investigate today’s attack, and put an end to the cycle of violence and impunity.

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