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Journalists covering torture assaulted at Chechnya border

Children look into a damaged car, outside the office of the Committee Against Torture in Grozny, Russia, 3 June 2015. Masked men bashed their way into the office of the Committee against Torture in the regional Chechen capital of Grozny last year, smashing furniture and sending the occupants fleeing through the windows, their colleagues said.
Children look into a damaged car, outside the office of the Committee Against Torture in Grozny, Russia, 3 June 2015. Masked men bashed their way into the office of the Committee against Torture in the regional Chechen capital of Grozny last year, smashing furniture and sending the occupants fleeing through the windows, their colleagues said.

AP Photo/Musa Sadulayev, file

This statement was originally published on ipi.freemedia.at on 10 March 2016.

The International Press Institute (IPI) has called on authorities in the Russian republic of Ingushetia to hold accountable those responsible for yesterday's attack on six Russian and foreign journalists investigating human rights abuses in the north Caucasus region.

According to reports, around 20 masked men wielding knives and clubs ambushed the journalists in their minibus as they attempted to cross from Ingushetia into neighbouring Chechnya together with representatives of a Russian anti-torture NGO. The attackers, believed to be from Chechnya, are said to have accused the group of being terrorists before beating them and setting their bus on fire.

Both foreign journalists involved, Swedish Radio's Maria Persson Lofgre and Øystein Windstad, a reporter for the Norwegian daily Ny Tid, were hospitalised with non-severe injuries.

Ny Tid Editor-in-Chief Truls Lie told IPI in a telephone interview that Windstad, who received stitches in three areas and suffered several broken teeth, was expected to return to Norway tomorrow. Lie said that Winstad was in the Caucasus in part to follow up on a previous investigative story about Chechen asylum seekers in Norway who claimed to have been brutally tortured in the troubled republic. The paper felt Winstad's trip would be safe given the large group size, the presence of Western reporters and the participation of a well-known NGO, Lie added.

Ingushetia's Interior Ministry stated that a search operation was “currently underway for establishing the persons who committed this attack”, according to Russian news sources. The Ministry reportedly said it would initiate a criminal investigation for “hooliganism” and “deliberate damage of property”.

IPI joined international observers in condemning the incident.

“This attack, which was a clear attempt to intimidate journalists investigating allegations of severe human rights abuses in Chechnya and the Caucasus region, is a reflection of general hostility toward the media fuelled by area leaders,” IPI Director of Press Freedom Programmes Scott Griffen said.

“We expect both Ingush authorities as well as the Russian federal authorities to launch a serious investigation focusing on who may have ordered this attack and why. Both the assailants and any masterminds must be swiftly brought to justice.”

Russian media reported today that President Vladimir Putin had ordered the country's Interior Ministry to “clarify the circumstances” behind the attack. A Kremlin spokesperson said that officials in Moscow condemned the violence against journalists and human rights activists as “absolutely unacceptable”.

The NGO involved in the attack, the Committee Against Torture, had previously been ordered by the Russian authorities to register as a “foreign agent” over its acceptance of foreign funds. After refusing to do so, the Committee was fined 900,000 rubles (€11,300), leading it to declare bankruptcy last year.

Last June, the Committee's offices in the Chechen capital of Grozny were ransacked by vandals as Chechen authorities reportedly refused to intervene. The group had previously accused Chechnya's leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, considered to be an ally of President Putin, of having engaged in various rights abuses.

The Committee said yesterday that it its offices in Ingushetia had been the site of a break-in attempt just hours after the incident at the Chechen border.

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