Russia opens criminal case into attack on journalist, lawyer in Chechnya
Russia on Wednesday opened a criminal case into a brutal attack by masked men in Chechnya on a prominent female Russian journalist and a lawyer as the serious nature of the injuries sustained in the assault became clearer.
Armed masked men on Tuesday attacked Yelena Milashina, a journalist for the Novaya Gazeta newspaper who was in Chechnya with lawyer Alexander Nemov when they were ambushed as they drove from the airport, Milashina’s employer and rights groups said.
Milashina and Nemov had planned to attend a court hearing in the case of a woman they believed was being unjustly persecuted for political reasons. The attack on them, in which their assailants put guns to their heads, shaved Milashina’s head, doused her with green dye, and stabbed Nemov in the leg – prevented them from attending.
They were flown back to Moscow for medical treatment amid calls from the Kremlin for the authorities in Chechnya, a southern mainly Muslim region ruled by Ramzan Kadyrov, an ally of President Vladimir Putin, to investigate.
Russia’s Investigative Committee, the equivalent of the U.S. FBI, said in a statement on Wednesday that investigators in Chechnya had opened criminal cases.
“An investigative team is currently carrying out various investigative and search operations aimed at identifying the persons involved in the crime and all the circumstances of what happened,” the committee said in a statement.
Novaya Gazeta said Milashina had been examined in a Moscow clinic which had concluded that she had sustained a closed craniocerebral injury, up to 14 fractures of the bones in her hands, and multiple soft tissue contusions.
It published photographs of Milashina with bandages on both hands, heavy bruising on her arms, a black eye, and injuries to her face and skull. The upper part of her back was covered in sores and scars.
Milashina has spent years investigating purported human rights abuses in Chechnya, including what she said was the mass arrest and torture of gay men in the region, and had received many threats before, including to her life.
Novaya Gazeta, which was one of Russia’s few independent news outlets until the government stripped it of its license last year, evacuated Milashina from Russia in 2022 after Kadyrov described her as a terrorist in a social media post and she was assaulted in Chechnya in 2020.
Kadyrov denies rights abuses, saying such allegations are fabricated by ill-wishers trying to discredit Chechnya and its authorities.
Milashina’s mentor at Novaya Gazeta, investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya who also covered Chechnya, was shot dead in her apartment building in Moscow in 2006. A group of Chechen men were convicted of her killing, but the person who ordered her murder was never identified.
Milashina and Nemov were in Chechnya to cover the sentencing of Zarema Musayeva, a Chechen woman charged with assaulting a policeman and with fraud – charges she denied – in a case critics saw as revenge against her sons and husband who were seen as disloyal by Kadyrov and have fled the country.
A Chechen court on Tuesday found Musayeva guilty and sentenced her to five-and-a-half years in a penal colony.