MOSCOW (Reuters) — In a disturbing incident that underscores the widespread human rights abuses in Chechnya, masked assailants violently assaulted a prominent investigative reporter and a lawyer on Tuesday. Novaya Gazeta journalist Elena Milashina and lawyer Alexander Nemov were targeted as they arrived in Chechnya to attend the trial of Zarema Musayeva, the mother of two local activists who have been challenging the authorities in the region.
The assailants, who were masked and unidentified, blocked their vehicle with several cars near the airport. They proceeded to attack Milashina and Nemov with clubs, pointing guns at their heads and destroying their equipment. Milashina suffered a brain injury and multiple finger fractures, while Nemov sustained a deep cut on his leg. They were initially taken to a hospital in Grozny, the main city in Chechnya, and later transferred to Beslan in the neighboring region of North Ossetia. Milashina lost consciousness multiple times, according to Novaya Gazeta.
Speaking from her hospital bed in a video, Milashina described the assault as a “classic abduction.” She explained that the assailants forced the driver out of the car, entered the vehicle, and proceeded to tie her hands and put a gun to her head. Milashina noted that the attackers appeared visibly nervous and had difficulty tying her hands. A photo from the hospital showed her with multiple bruises on her shaven head, talking on the phone with green antiseptic covering her face.
Officials are considering the medical evacuation of Milashina and Nemov to Moscow. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated in a conference call with reporters that Russian President Vladimir Putin had been informed about the incident. Peskov emphasized that the assault was a grave matter requiring decisive action from law enforcement agencies.
Russian human rights ombudsperson Tatyana Moskalkova has requested investigators to thoroughly examine the attack on Milashina and Nemov. The Russian Ministry for Digital Development and Mass Communications condemned the assault as “monstrous” and pledged to provide the necessary support to the victims. The ministry also urged law enforcement agencies to conduct a comprehensive investigation and bring the perpetrators to justice.
Alexander Bastrykin, the head of the Investigative Committee, the country’s primary state criminal investigation agency, has ordered a probe into the attack. The prompt and strong response from Russian authorities stands in contrast to previous incidents involving attacks on Milashina and other journalists and human rights activists who have exposed human rights violations in Chechnya.
Milashina has a long history of uncovering human rights abuses in Chechnya and has faced threats, intimidation, and previous physical attacks. In 2020, she and a lawyer accompanying her were assaulted by a group of individuals in their hotel lobby. Last year, she temporarily left Russia due to threats from Chechen authorities.
Her investigative reporting, including exposing the torture and killings of LGBTQ+ individuals in Chechnya and other abuses by feared Chechen paramilitary forces, has garnered widespread acclaim. In 2013, Milashina received the International Women of Courage Award from the U.S. Department of State.