COVID-19: Rapporteurs call on Russian authorities to protect journalist Elena Milashina as a matter of urgency

Stefan Schennach (Austria, SOC), General Rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on media freedom and the protection of journalists, and Frank Schwabe (Germany, SOC), rapporteur on “the continuing need to restore human rights and the rule of law in the North Caucasus”, today expressed their deep concern at the death threats which Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov made on 13 April against Novaya Gazeta journalist Elena Milashina.

According to the Council of Europe Platform for the Protection of Journalism and the Safety of Journalists, the death threats followed the publication in Novaya Gazeta of an article criticising human rights violations in Chechnya under the pretext of combating the COVID-19 pandemic. Milashina said in her article that Chechens in quarantine had stopped reporting symptoms of the coronavirus for fear of being labelled as “terrorists”.

The Chechen President accused the journalist of writing “nonsense”, blaming the Federal Security Service for not silencing her and calling Novaya Gazeta and her journalist “a puppet of the West”. Fearing for her life, Milashina appealed to Russia’s Commission of Inquiry and the Prosecutor General’s Office but received no response. Instead of protecting the journalist, the Prosecutor General’s Office ordered Novaya Gazeta to remove the article from its website. This was done without delay. However, the Prosecutor General has not yet justified the claim that the article contains “false news”.

“The murder threats made by the President of Chechnya against the Novaya Gazeta journalist are absolutely unacceptable,” said the two rapporteurs.

“Threats against Milashina and Novaya Gazeta have been regularly made since the spring of 2017, especially after they published news of human rights violations in this republic of the Russian Federation. Earlier this year, the journalist and her lawyer were attacked and beaten by an organised mob in a hotel in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya. The investigation into this attack was halted after technical evidence, including video surveillance information, ‘disappeared’. So far nobody has been held responsible for the attack and we find this outrageous,” they added.

“We call on the Russian authorities to urgently resolve this worrying situation and ensure the protection and safety of Ms Milashina, to strongly condemn Mr Kadyrov’s verbal attacks and to investigate this case, but also earlier attacks on the Novaya Gazeta journalist. Russia must respect its obligation to ensure that journalists, bloggers and human rights defenders can work in safety and freedom,” the two rapporteurs concluded.