NGO suffers Chechen ‘terror’ attacks
The authorities in Chechnya have been accused of trying to force out Memorial, one of Russia’s leading human rights groups, to end 25 years of documenting abuses in the semi-autonomous republic.
This week a car belonging to Memorial was burned out in the North Caucasus region of Daghestan and the same text message was repeatedly sent to Memorial’s mobile phone saying: “You’re walking on the edge of the abyss. Shut down! Next time we’ll burn your office, with you inside. The car is just a warning.”
The Moscow-based group said the “arson attack” on January 22 in the regional capital, Makhachkala (pictured), adding that it was part of a “terror” campaign to force it out of the North Caucasus.
Oleg Orlov, a leading member of Memorial, said the group’s lawyer used the car to travel to neighbouring Chechnya, where the head of its office is in jail on suspicion of drug possession.
On January 9, Oyub Titiev, the director of Memorial’s office in the Chechen capital Grozny, was arrested on marijuana possession charges. A week later, masked assailants set fire and largely destroyed Memorial’s office in Nazran in Ingushetia, a 90-minute drive from Grozny.
Orlov said the attacks in Chechnya, Ingushetia and Daghestan were “parts of the same chain”, adding that the organisers of the attacks “must be sought in the Chechen republic”.
“What is being organised against Memorial is intimidation, menacing, in other words, it is terror,” Orlov said.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Chechen police this month harassed the landlord of Memorial’s Grozny office, saying: “Don’t you know who you’re renting to?”
Chechnya’s leader Ramzan Kadyrov called the group hired “snitches” and “enemies of the people” who “have no motherland, no ethnicity, no religion”.
“Well, I will tell you how we are going to break the spine of our enemies,” the colourful Kremlin ally said.
In the years after the murder of Memorial’s lead Chechnya researcher, Natalia Estemirova, Chechen human rights defenders continue to face beatings, arson attacks, threats and smear campaigns.
HRW said the sustained nature of this month’s attacks and the exclusive focus on Memorial was a new development.
Last month, soon after Kadyrov was included as a target for US sanctions under the US Magnitsky Act and his beloved Instagram account was blocked, a government official said Memorial was “pouring rivers of lies” to its “bosses across the ocean”.
“It’s time for the Kremlin to start drawing conclusions, and fast, before Chechen authorities move from this war of attrition against Memorial into something more dire,” HRW said.
Makhachkala. Picture credit: Wikimedia