Group attacked by masked men as they headed to Grozny for meetings with victims of human rights abuses, says independent torture watchdog
Journalists on a tour organised by human rights activists in Chechnya have been attacked by masked men, with their minibus burned and two reporters hospitalised, according to activists.
Nine people, including five journalists, had been en route to Grozny, the main city in Chechnya, when their bus was cut off by several cars, according to the Committee to Prevent Torture, which oversees a group of rights activists in Chechnya called the Joint Mobile Group.
“Men in masks pulled journalists and employees outside and beat them. They burned the bus,” the group said.
“Journalists from Norway and Sweden, our lawyer and the bus driver were hospitalised with injuries.” The rest of the group were testifying to Ingushetia policemen.
Dmitry Utukin, a lawyer for the Committee to Prevent Torture, formerly known as the Committee Against Torture, said the incident happened in Ingushetiya, close to the border with Chechnya, but was likely orchestrated by Chechens.
“This would not be in the interest of the Ingushetiya side, this would be in the interest of the Chechen side,” he said, since Chechnya had paid “a lot of attention” to the work of the committee and journalists operating on its territory.
“They have watched the group from the moment the journalists arrived,” he said of the unofficial press tour organised to take reporters to victims of human rights abuses and relatives of kidnapped people.
He said it was the first press tour that was not organised by Chechen government and focused on the dark sides of the region where strongman leader Ramzan Kadyrov has little tolerance for any dissent.
In 2015 the Joint Mobile Group’s office in Grozny was destroyed by masked men after it criticised Kadyrov’s policy to burn down houses belonging to relatives of suspected Islamists.
Kadyrov is accused by rights activists and political opposition of running the region as his personal fiefdom with a private army, with wide use of kidnapping and torture and little oversight from Moscow.
This year he issued threats against Kremlin critics and independent journalists, calling them “a gang of jackals” and offering to put them in a mental asylum.