The Governor of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, has threatened a Russian journalist Elena Milashina after she reported about a shortage of protective equipment amongst doctors.
She also reported on the mass arrests of people violating government rules on self-isolation.
The International and the European Federation of Journalists (IFJ and EFJ) have joined with their affiliate, the Russian Union of Journalists (RUJ) in expressing solidarity with Elena Milashina and calling on the Chechen leader to let journalists report freely during the COVID19 pandemic.
The International Federation of Journalists explains that on 12th April, Elena Milashina, an award- winning -investigative journalist for Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, published an article describing how the Chechen Governor had responded to the pandemic. The following day Governor Kadyrov is alleged to have threatened the journalist in a Telegram and Instagram live stream, claiming: “If you want us to commit a crime and become criminals, just say so! One (of us) will take on this responsibility and serve his time, as required by law. He’ll do his time and then he’ll be released”.
On 15 April the Russian Federal Service for Supervision of Communications (Roskomnadzor) forced Novaya Gazeta to retract Elena Milashina’s reports following accusations of “inaccurate information” and for causing “a threat to public safety”. The Chief Editor of Novaya Gazeta, Dmitry Muratov, expressed his concerns about this decision and a wave of attacks and threats against Elena Milashina in a conversation published by Meduza news, a Latvian online publication.
Elena Milashina has been reporting on Chechnya’s breach of human rights for several years. In an interview with the IFJ in May 2019, she said: “I write mostly on human rights-related topics in Chechnya: illegal detention, torture, killings… Chechens are Russian citizens and formally they all have rights guaranteed by the Constitution. But everyone who lives in Chechnya can be kidnapped or killed with impunity”.
In May 2019 she received the honoris causa doctor title awarded by Brussels University to mark World Press Freedom Day. In October 2009, she was awarded Human Rights Watch’s Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism and in line with her investigative work, she was the first journalist to shed light on anti-gay purges in Chechnya in April 2017.
RUJ President, Vladimir Soloviev, with the support of Human Rights Council, journalists and activists sent a request on 17 April to the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office asking for the reason and the basis for removing the journalist’s story from the newspaper’s website to ascertain if the constitutional rights of journalists and the media have been violated. Censorship is prohibited by the Russian Constitution.
The RUJ said: “We took emergency control and are monitoring the actions of all parties involved with one aim : stop any attempts to censor and violate of freedom of speech.”
The IFJ and EFJ have urged Roskomnadzor to review its decision and demand President Ramzan Kadyrov stop harassing the press and spreading hatred against media professionals and provide Elena Milashina with the protection she needs to enable her to do her job.