Russian Activists and Journalists Attacked at Chechen Border

Activists from the Committee for the Prevention of Torture were beaten by a group of masked men as they attempted to bring journalists into Chechnya.

Photo: Committee for the Prevention of Torture/Facebook

Activists from one of Russia’s most prominent rights groups, the Committee for the Prevention of Torture, were beaten by masked men as they attempted to bring a group of journalists into Chechnya today.

The ambush was carried out by about 20 men who beat the activists and journalists with sticks and set their vehicles on fire, according to Dmitriy Piskunov, a lawyer in the group’s Moscow office. Piskunov told The Intercept that the incident took place at the start of a press tour organized by the committee to give Russian and foreign journalists an unvarnished look at conditions in Chechnya, the Muslim-majority region ruled with notable brutality by Ramzan Kadyrov, an image-conscious leader appointed by the Kremlin.

One of the journalists, Egor Skovoroda of the Russian news agency Mediazona, reported that the attackers yelled, “You’re supporting terrorists, the killers of our fathers,” before forcing the activists and journalists out of a small bus and setting it on fire. Skovoroda shared an image of the conflagration on Twitter.

Skovoroda also reported that a car with Chechen license plates started following the rights activists before the attack.

A Norwegian newspaper, Ny Tid, shared images of one of its correspondents, Oystein Windstad, being treated for injuries to his face, arm, and leg at a hospital in Ingushetia, the Russian republic that borders Chechnya.

Maria Persson Löfgren, the Moscow correspondent of Swedish state radio, reported that she was slightly injured in the ambush.

The attackers also broke the nose of the rights group’s press secretary, Ivan Zhiltsov, and set the committee’s other car on fire as well.

In a separate incident later in the day, according to Piskunov, the committee’s staff in Moscow watched in real time as masked men carrying rifles were recorded by surveillance cameras forcing their way into the group’s office in Ingushetia.

Piskunov declined to speculate on what exactly the aim of the two attacks might have been, but he observed that most journalists are only permitted to visit Chechnya on tours organized by Kadyrov, “to create an exclusively positive image of Chechnya.”

The committee’s Joint Mobile Group in Chechnya was formed to investigate rights abuses like abductions by the authorities, torture in custody, and extrajudicial executions. When the group won the prestigious Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders in 2013, its work was explained in a video report featuring an interview with its founder, Igor Kalyapin.

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