21 April 2017 – The Russian authorities must promptly and impartially investigate the threats against Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta and its staff and protect journalists from violence, PEN International said today, amidst serious concerns for their safety.
On 1 April 2017, leading independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported that over 100 men perceived to be gay had been abducted, held in secret detention, tortured and otherwise ill-treated by local militia and security forces in Chechnya. These reportedly included TV journalists. At least three men had been killed, according to the article. Local and international human rights organisations also said they had received similar reports from credible sources.
Instead of investigating these allegations, the Chechen authorities categorically dismissed Novaya Gazeta’s investigation and even appeared to condone acts of violence. On 3 April, some 15,000 people gathered in Chechnya’s capital Grozny to protest against the article. Adam Shakhidov, advisor of Chechnya’s leader Ramzan Kadyrov, addressed the crowd and called Novaya Gazeta and its staff “the enemies of our faith and homeland”. A resolution adopted at the meeting “promise[d] that those behind it [would] face reprisals, whoever they are and wherever they are.” A recording of his speech was widely circulated on Chechen television and social media.
On 14 April, Novaya Gazeta published a statement saying that it feared for the safety of its staff. Elena Milashina, the investigative journalist who first broke the story, announced that she would leave Russia. She had good reasons to take these threats seriously. Her colleague Anna Politkovskaya was shot dead ten years ago. Those responsible for ordering the killing have yet to be brought to justice. On 19 April, Novaya Gazeta said it had received an envelope containing an unidentified white powder. Russia’s Investigative Committee recently announced that it would open an inquiry into the threats.
“We are appalled by horrific reports of abuses against men believed to be gay in Chechnya and the continuous threats against Novaya Gazeta and its staff. We call on the Russian authorities to urgently and effectively investigate these threats and do everything in their power to ensure the safety of journalists who are doing nothing more than carrying out their work. Perpetrators must be brought to justice” said Carles Torner, executive director of PEN International.
On 1 April, Alvi Karimov, spokesperson for Ramzan Kadyrov, issued a statement calling Novaya Gazeta’s article “absolute lies and disinformation” on the basis that there were no gay men in Chechnya. In a thinly veiled threat, he added that “if there were such people in Chechnya, law enforcement agencies wouldn’t need to have anything to do with them because their relatives would send them somewhere from which there is no returning”. Ramzan Kadyrov himself denied reports of the purge during a televised meeting on 19 April at the Kremlin.
The Russian authorities have said they would investigate allegations if victims come forward but people in Chechnya, where so-called “honour-killings” are still practiced, are too scared to speak out. Discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people in Russia is rife. In 2015, the United Nations Human Rights Committee expressed deep concerns at reports of discrimination, hate speech and violence against LGBTI people in Russia and violations of their rights to freedom of expression and assembly.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 56 journalists have been killed in Russia since 1992. Of those, 36 were murdered in direct retaliation for their work. Nikolai Andrushchenko, co-founder of the weekly newspaper Novy Peterburg, died on 19 April 2017 of injuries sustained in a beating last month. He was known for his reporting on corruption and human rights abuses.
As a party to the European Convention on Human Rights, the Russian authorities have an obligation to guarantee freedom of expression and protect journalists from threats and attacks.
For further details contact Aurélia Dondo at PEN International, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN, UK Tel: +44 (0) 20 7405 0338 Fax +44 (0) 20 7405 0339 e-mail: Aurelia.firstname.lastname@example.org