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The Russian state must protect journalists from Ramzan Kadyrov Meduza calls on federal law enforcement to respond to violent threats by Chechen officials

Source: Meduza
Elena Afonina / TASS / Scanpix / LETA

Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of the Chechen government, has called Novaya Gazeta journalist Elena Milashina and Committee Against Torture director Igor Kalyapin “terrorists.” Kadyrov has also accused entire newsrooms, not just at Novaya Gazeta but also at the independent television network Dozhd, of being “terrorists and their accomplices.” These remarks aren’t just insulting (though they are certainly that); they’re also threats of violence. “We’ve always destroyed terrorists and their accomplices, between whom there’s no distinction, and we will continue to deal with them like this,” said Kadyrov.

There is no ambiguity here.

The Kremlin regularly praises itself for restoring a “strong state” after the “troubled 1990s” and for showing no mercy to the “enemies of the Fatherland” (in other words, to those who oppose the authorities). Activists’ arrests, show trials, the persecution of independent politicians and business owners, the creation of “foreign agent” and “undesirable” registries, and the return of state censorship — it’s all meant to prove the “strength” of Vladimir Putin’s state.

This power vanishes, however, the instant the Chechen authorities appear. Moscow now loses its tongue not only when asked about Ramzan Kadyrov but also when it comes to questions concerning Chechen State Duma deputy Adam Delimkhanov and the dozens of local officials in Chechnya who have threatened to behead the family members of a retired judged named Saidi Yangulbaev. The Kremlin’s press secretary redirects inquiring journalists to the Duma’s meaningless ethics committee. Meanwhile, at the height of the latest coronavirus wave, when it’s impossible across the country to stage so much as a solitary picket, thousands of people gather for a demonstration in the center of Grozny, but the city’s public health officials can’t even identify the organizers.

Rather than a “strong state” or even a dictatorship built on the principle of rewarding friends and holding enemies accountable before the law, Chechnya resembles a failed state where anyone with his own power base can use violence to solve his problems however he wishes.

Any newsroom knows how hard it is to work in Chechnya and to write about Chechen issues. Our colleagues whom Kadyrov threatens aren’t just reporting the news; they’re performing an essential civic function by demonstrating where Russia’s adopted laws, rules, and norms do not operate — where there is no state.

Last spring, during Kadyrov’s previous conflict with Novaya Gazeta, the Kremlin’s spokesman said that journalists’ safety must be “incontrovertible.” “Nothing should pose a threat to reporters,” said Dmitry Peskov.

Prove it. Stop Kadyrov now.

Meduza’s newsroom joins an appeal from Novaya Gazeta and Dozhd addressed to Russia’s law enforcement agencies, demanding an immediate response to the threats from Ramzan Kadyrov and his team.
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