Russia: UN experts dismayed at violent attack against journalist Yelena Milashina and lawyer Alexander Nemov in Grozny

Geneva, 7 July, 2023.- N experts today urged the Russian Federation to investigate the violent attack against award-winning Novaya Gazeta journalist, Yelena Milashina, and human rights lawyer, Alexander Nemov, and bring to justice the perpetrators and those who ordered it.

“We are appalled by the violent physical attack against a journalist and a human rights lawyer on the morning of 4 July,” the experts said. “It is another example of the blatant disregard for the safety of journalists and human rights defenders in the Russian Federation.”

The pair was assaulted and badly beaten by a group of masked assailants shortly after arriving in the Russian Republic of Chechnya on Tuesday (4 July) to cover the trial of Zarema Musaeva, the mother of exiled opposition activists who challenged the leader of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov. President Kadyrov stated on his social media in January 2022 that the family of Musaeva “was waiting for a place either in prison or in the ground”.

Alexander Nemov is part of the team of lawyers defending Musaeva in the trial. Yelena Milashina is a journalist who has reported for years on Chechnya, investigating human rights abuses in the region. Because of death threats from Chechen leader Kadyrov, she had to temporarily flee Russia in February 2022 after Kadyrov publicly called her “a terrorist”, saying “we have always eliminated terrorists and their accomplices”. Milashina’s investigative reporting followed in the footsteps of two other women journalists, Novaya Gazeta colleague Anna Politkovskaya and Chechen campaigner Natalia Estemirova, both murdered to silence their investigative work in Chechnya.

According to reports, the assailants beat them with clubs and kicked them, took their phones, smashed their equipment and destroyed their documents. They repeatedly shouted: “You were warned. Get out of here and do not write anything.”

“This incident highlights the dangers and risks faced by journalists and human rights defenders in their efforts to protect human rights and seek justice for victims in the Russian Federation, and particularly the Chechen Republic,” the experts said.

Both Alexander Nemov and Yelena Milashina were admitted to a hospital in Grozny with serious injuries. Milashina was diagnosed with a closed head injury, and periodically lost consciousness in the hospital. The fingers of both her hands were broken, her body was covered in bruises, and her head was shaved by the attackers and doused with brilliant green, which is a severe form of humiliation against women in the North Caucasus.

Due to further concerns about their safety, they were transferred to a medical facility in the city of Beslan in the Russian Republic of North Ossetia.

“We are relieved that Yelena Milashina and Alexander Nemov escaped alive from the attack and appreciate efforts to bring them to safety,” the experts said. However, we are gravely concerned about continuing threats to their lives and well-being.”

“We will be closely monitoring this case, which is another attempt to silence independent voices advocating for justice for the victims of human rights violations in Russia,” they said.

“The Russian Federation has a responsibility to carry out a prompt and thorough investigation into the case, identify the perpetrators and those who ordered this crime and bring them to justice immediately,” the experts said. “To ensure impartiality and independence, the case should be transferred to another region,” they said.

“The Russian Federation must end the climate of impunity and demonstrate its willingness to create an enabling and safe environment for all journalists and human rights defenders, free from intimidation and threats to their lives, in line with its international obligations and commitments,” the experts said.

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