Over the past several weeks, journalists and human rights defenders reporting on the North Caucasus have experienced a spike in violence and threats.
On January 10, Vladislav Ryazantsev, a journalist from Caucasian Knot (Kavkazsky Uzel), an online independent outlet focusing on human rights violations in the Caucasus region, was attacked by a group of five masked men in Rostov. The men beat the journalist, but left the scene when passers-by intervened. The attackers did not attempt to rob Ryazantsev, which suggests the incident could have been motivated by Ryazantsev journalistic work.
The attacked happened three days after the chairman of the Chechen Parliament, Magomed Daudov, threatened the editor-in-chief of Caucasian Knot, Gregory Shvedov, in a post on his Instagram account titled ‘How to untie the Caucasian Knot?’. Using crude language, Daudov threatened Shvedov, saying he would “tame his tongue to a standard size” and “pull his wisdom teeth out” because his writing about the Caucasus was utter “rubbish.”
Immediately following the incident, Shvedov filed a complaint against Daudov accusing him of impeding the legitimate and professional work of journalists under Article 144, Part 3 of the Code of Criminal Offences of the Russian Federation. According to Shvedov, Daudov’s public threats were not only directed against him, but against the entire journalist community in the Caucasus region.
Another journalist working for Caucasian Knot has also fallen victim to the deliberate crackdown against the organization. On December 28, 2016, the Supreme Court of Chechnya upheld a conviction against human right journalist Zhalaudi Geriev, who was sentenced in September to three years imprisonment on falsified charges of drug possession.
For years, journalists and human rights defenders focusing on human rights violations in Chechnya have been targeted by Russian authorities. Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of Chechnya and a loyalist of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has directly threatened the Kremlin’s critics, on a number of occasions. These threats have led to violent attacks against human rights defenders and journalists. For instance, in March 2016, a group of masked men attacked eight human rights defenders and journalists, including two foreign reporters, at the Chechnya-Ingushetia border. Russian officials did not condemn the attack.
These incidents – past and current – underscore the systemic and ruthless crackdown on human rights defenders and journalists reporting on the North Caucasus. The refusal by Russian authorities to condemn public threats against these individuals makes the Kremlin complicit in creating an atmosphere of impunity that puts their lives at risk.
As Russia continues to be one of the most dangerous places for journalists to work, the North Caucasus is becoming particularly unsafe, especially for critics of human rights abuses committed by the Putin regime and its loyalists in Chechnya.