Attacks on journalists in Ingushetia must be investigated; international community must react
On 9 March, unknown assailants attacked a minibus with lawyers and human rights activists from the Joint Mobile Group and international journalists on the border between Chechnya and Ingushetia. Among those attacked were a Norwegian and a Swedish journalist.
– The attack underlines the lawlessness and impunity problem that prevails in the North Caucasus, says Bjørn Engesland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. “The Norwegian and the Swedish governments, together with the international community, must demand that Russian authorities genuinely investigate the attack. Those responsible must be brought to justice in a meaningful way”, Engesland continues.
The journalists were beaten, their cameras and phones stolen and the minibus was put on fire. The journalists, Øystein Windstad (Norwegian) and Maria Persson Løfgren (Swedish), as well as one of the Joint Mobile Group lawyers and the driver of the minibus were taken to hospital.
– Lawlessness, fueled by widespread impunity, is spreading in the region, says Senior Adviser Lene Wetteland. “Yesterday’s attack illustrates the high risk of physical attacks severed by local lawyers and journalists in Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan. The journalists visited the region in order to document the dire situation of human rights defenders and independent journalists. Attacking them is a new step, sending a chilling message that no one is safe.”
The North Caucasus region suffers from systematic human rights abuse. However, the precarious human rights situation often goes under the radar of international media. Russian authorities portray the region as largely stable, however with groups of extremists constituting a security threat that authorities have to fight with any means.
– The attack shows a different picture. “It is highly unlikely that such incidents could take place if they were genuinely investigated and the culprits prosecuted. There is a dark history of attacks and even murder of human rights activists and independent journalists linked to the region, and in particular to Chechnya. Natalya Estemirova and Anna Politkovskaya are but the most well-known examples of courageous activists and journalists killed,” says Senior Advisor Inna Sangadzhieva, who has been in regular contact with the Joint Mobile Group since the attack happened yesterday.
Russian authorities have stated that investigations are under way. However, they will only be based on charges of hooliganism and intended harm to property. – Windstad expressed in an interview with the Norwegian daily Aftenposten that he feared for his life as he was severely beaten by masked men, said Engesland. “This was not hooliganism. It looks like an intentional attack on journalists known for their coverage of cases linked to Chechnya and the brutality of the current Ramzan Kadyrov regime. The North Caucasus, including Chechnya, is part of the Russian Federation, and responsibility rests on Russian authorities to ensure that the current culture of impunity comes to an end. Norway and other democratic countries should put pressure on Russia to that end.”
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