Chechen police complain to Putin over ‘vile’ newspaper

A special forces unit in Chechnya has called on President Vladimir Putin to protect himself against “vile attacks” by the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, whose journalists have documented rights violations in the republic.

Co-founded by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1993, Novaya Gazeta is one of the few newspapers to criticize Putin’s policies.

On Monday, he published the testimony of a former member of an elite Chechen police unit about his involvement in the detentions and extrajudicial killings of dozens of people in the region.

In a statement Wednesday evening, the Chechen police regiment named Akhmat Kadyrov, the murdered father of regional strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, called on Putin to pay attention to Novaya Gazeta’s “vile attacks” on its members.

“We are ready to fulfill any of your orders,” they said on Instagram, accusing the opposition newspaper of starting “a real information war” against them.

“We are no strangers to fighting Russia’s enemies in open combat.”

The regiment accused the media of being a “spokesperson” for Western security services, saying there was no difference between “international terrorists” and “pseudo-journalists”.

Chechnya has been under Kadyrov’s control since coming to power following two wars between Russian forces and separatists in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Chechen police say they are ‘no stranger to fighting Russia’s enemies in open combat’
AFP / Alexander NEMENOV

His regime has been widely condemned for persecuting human rights activists and allegedly imprisoning and torturing opponents.

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday that the president could not intervene and suggested that the Chechen police turn to the courts if they wanted to publicly defend their reputation.

“Yes, the newspaper publishes critical reports,” Peskov told reporters.

“But journalists should certainly not be threatened.”

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic said the “shocking testimonies” revealed by Novaya Gazeta “warrant an immediate, impartial and independent investigation”.

“Instead of harassing independent journalists and human rights defenders for carrying out their legitimate activities in the public interest, the Russian authorities should cooperate with them,” she said in a statement.

On Monday, Novaya Gazeta said its Moscow offices had been the target of a “chemical attack”.

The newspaper said an unknown substance was spilled at the entrance and the effects were so strong that the pungent smell could be felt on the street.

Novaya Gazeta has suffered numerous attacks on its offices and journalists over the years.

In 2006, journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was investigating the Kremlin’s war in Chechnya, was shot dead outside her apartment building in Moscow.

In 2017, a court found a former Chechen security force officer guilty of murdering Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov in 2015 and sentenced him to 20 years in prison. Four other men were found guilty of involvement in the murder.

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