Female Russian journalist attacked by armed thugs, who cover her in green dye, shave her head and break her fingers

4 July 2023, 13:55 | Updated: 4 July 2023, 14:44

Elena Milashina was brutally attacked in Chechnya
Elena Milashina was brutally attacked in Chechnya. Picture: Telegram

By Kit Heren

A prominent female Russian journalist was attacked by armed thugs who injured her brain, broke her fingers, shaved her head and poured green dye over her.

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Yelena Milashina, a reporter with the banned Novaya Gazeta newspaper, and lawyer Alexander Nemov, were stopped by the masked men in the south Russian region of Chechnya on Tuesday.

Ms Milashina and Mr Nemov arrived in the region for the trial of Zarema Musayeva, the mother of two local activists who have challenged Chechen authorities.

The thugs forced the car carrying the pair to stop, pulled them out and beat them severely.

Ms Milashina and Mr Nemov were rushed to hospital. Ms Milashina, who has a long record of exposing human rights abuses in Chechnya, passed out several times on the way.

Speaking from her hospital bed in the Chechen capital of Grozny, she told Mansur Soltayev, a Chechen human rights official: "They pinned (our driver) down, threw him out of his car, got in, bent our heads down, tied my hands, knelt me down there, and put a gun to my head.

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Elena Milashina
Elena Milashina. Picture: Telegram

"They seemed nervous for some reason, so it was difficult for them to tie our hands."

The Memorial charity said the pair were "brutally kicked, including in the face, threatened with death, had a gun held to their heads, and had their equipment taken away and smashed."

The group said on Telegram: "While being beaten, they were told: 'You have been warned. Get out of here and don't write anything".

Ms Milashina and Mr Nemov will be transferred to Moscow for further treatment on Tuesday evening.

Elena Milashina
Elena Milashina. Picture: Telegram

The Kremlin said Russian president Vladimir Putin had been told about the "very serious attack" on Ms Milashina. A spokesperson said the assault had to be investigated and followed by "energetic measures."

Musayeva was found guilty and given to five-and-a-half years in a penal colony on Tuesday. As she was being led to prison, she slipped a note to her lawyer wishing Mr Nemov and Ms Milashina well.

"Sashenka [a diminutive for Alexander], get better as soon as possible please. I wish you luck, success and good health from bottom of my heart.

"A huge thank you to everyone for everything you've done, all the very best to everyone.

"Lenochka [a diminutive for Elena], get better. Hold on, my dear."

Zarema Musaeva's heartbreaking note
Zarema Musaeva's heartbreaking note. Picture: Telegram/Team Against Torture

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who presides over a notorious regime in Chechnya and is a vocal supporter of Putin, has not commented publicly.

Ms Milashina has long faced threats, intimidation and attacks for her work exposing Chechen human rights abuses.

In 2020, she and a lawyer accompanying her were beaten by a dozen people in the lobby of their hotel.

Ramzan Kadyrov
Ramzan Kadyrov. Picture: Getty

The Kremlin has relied on Mr Kadyrov to keep the region stable after two bloody separatist wars in the 1990s and 2000s. His father Akhmat switched sides to back Russia after the first Chechen war, becoming the leader of the region before being assassinated in 2004. His son succeeded him.

Mr Kadyrov's security services have been accused of killing, torturing and abducting people who oppose his regime.

Chechen troops tried to break away from Russia twice in the 1990s and 2000s
Chechen troops tried to break away from Russia twice in the 1990s and 2000s. Picture: Getty

Repeated demands by international human rights groups to end abuses in Chechnya have been stonewalled by Russian authorities.

Despite the Kremlin's support, Mr Kadyrov reportedly has had tense relations with some of Russia's law enforcement agencies.

Kadyrov is a vocal supporter of Putin
Kadyrov is a vocal supporter of Putin. Picture: Getty

Tuesday's attack quickly drew an angry reaction from Kremlin-connected politicians that could signal authorities' intentions to cut the Chechen strongman down to size.

Andrei Klishas, head of the constitutional affairs committee in the upper house, said the attack on Ms Milashina and Mr Nemov warrants a "tough response" from the law enforcement agencies and another senior politician, Alexander Khinshtein, denounced it as "criminal" and urged prosecutors to prioritise the case.

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