Independent journalist kidnapped in Chechnya

New York, August 21, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned about the fate of reporter Elina Ersenoyeva, who was seized by masked men in the southern Russian republic of Chechnya on Thursday. Ersenoyeva is Grozny correspondent for the independent weekly Chechenskoye Obshchestvo (Chechen Society), which is based in neighboring Ingushetia.

Several men in camouflage gear kidnapped Ersenoyeva, 26, and her aunt in downtown Grozny, Chechnya’s capital, Thursday morning, local press reported. The aunt was released unharmed several hours later.

Chechenskoye Obshchestvo editor Timur Aliyev told CPJ that it was too early to determine the reason for the kidnapping. He said Ersenoyeva wrote on social issues and covered the plight of Chechen refuges. Her latest article was on conditions in Grozny prisons.

The kidnappers let Ersenoyeva call her mother on her cell phone on Thursday evening. She said she expected to be released the same day. But the family has heard nothing more and Ersenoyeva’s cell phone is switched off, local media reported.

Two days before her abduction, Ersenoyeva sent a letter to the International Helsinki Foundation and the Russian human rights center Demos, in which she said that beginning in March she, her mother and two brothers, had been harassed by the so-called Kadyrovsty—members of a security force commanded by the Kremlin-appointed Chechnya Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov. Some Kadyrovsty units have become part of the Chechen Interior Ministry while others operate as militia units, which are feared by the civilian population for their brutality.

Human rights abuses in the volatile North Caucasus are barely covered by the Russian media. The three national television channels rarely broadcast any news from Chechnya and outlets that dare to present a version of events different from the state-approved picture of normalcy face retaliation from authorities. Such retaliation includes bureaucratic harassment of the press, sacking of journalists, stripping of press credentials, media closures, and politicized lawsuits on libel and extremist charges.

In some cases, journalists covering Chechnya are abducted or killed with impunity, CPJ research shows.

Russian authorities are yet to report any progress in the July 2003 abduction of Agence France-Presse correspondent Ali Astamirov by unknown armed assailants in Ingushetia, a southern republic neighboring Chechnya. In the months prior to his abduction, police officers and Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) agents had repeatedly harassed Astamirov and obstructed his efforts to report on developments in Chechnya.