Journalist brutally beaten in Russian province

From the editor's desk

It’s impossible to believe it was just a coincidence that a prominent Russian investigative reporter somehow came upon assailants that left her brutally beaten in Chechnya the day she and her attorney arrived there to attend the trial of a mother of two local activists who have challenged Chechen authorities.

The terrifying incident began when a vehicle carrying journalist Elena Milashina and her lawyer Alexander Nemov was blocked by several cars just outside the airport there, The Associated Press reported earlier this month. They were attacked by a dozen unidentified masked attackers who beat them with clubs, put guns to their heads and broke their equipment.

Her employer, a publication known as the Novaya Gazeta, reported the incident immediately on July 4, indicating that Milashina sustained a concussion and had several fingers broken.

It released horrifying pictures of Milashina, showing both her hands bandaged, her face injured and her back covered by enormous ugly bruises from the beating.

The attackers also shaved her head clean and doused green antiseptic on her, Milashina said. She noted that the attackers grabbed their equipment, but didn’t touch cash and other valuables.

Milashina said the assailants threatened to cut her fingers if she refused to give a password to unlock her phone and then beat her on her fingers with a plastic tube.

“It was very painful. It felt like a burn,” she said. The newspaper said Milashina repeatedly lost consciousness.

Milashina has long exposed human rights violations in Chechnya despite threats, intimidation and attacks. In 2020, she and a lawyer accompanying her were beaten by a dozen people in the lobby of their hotel. Last year, she temporarily left Russia after she was threatened by Chechen authorities.

She has won widespread acclaim for her investigative reporting, which included exposing the torture and killings of gay people in Chechnya and other abuses by feared Chechen paramilitary forces.

In 2013, Milashina received an International Women of Courage Award from the U.S. Department of State.

No doubt, these awards are truly deserved, but certainly, no journalists do their important work seeking honors.

Speaking from a hospital bed in a video, Milashina seemed unfazed. She said the attack looked like a “classic abduction,” AP reported.

“They threw the driver out of the car, got in, bent our heads down, tied my hands, forced me down to my knees and put a gun to my head,” she said, adding that the assailants were visibly nervous and had trouble tying her hands.

Nemov said the attackers threatened to kill him and told him to plead for mercy as they put a pistol to his head.

The story, of course, is frightening to anyone who reads it. It’s especially appalling and terrifying to journalists who make their living telling the stories that someone doesn’t want to be told.

In Russia, the Kremlin spokesman told reporters that Russian President Vladimir Putin had been informed about the incident, and called it “a very serious assault that warrants energetic measures” from law enforcement agencies.

Hours after the attack, the defendant in the case Milashina was there to cover was sentenced to more than five years in prison. Despite the brutal attack, Milashina appears not to be deterred, vowing to travel again to Chechnya to attend the defendant’s appeal hearing.

Milashina is not the first journalist from Novaya Gazeta to face violence, presumably due to their important work. Anna Politkovskaya, a widely acclaimed investigative reporter who exposed human rights abuses in Chechnya, was shot dead in the elevator of her Moscow apartment in 2006.

Novaya Gazeta is an independent Russian newspaper known for critical, investigative coverage of Russian political and social affairs.


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