CPJ condemns death threats against Elena Milashina, calls for investigation

New York, June 11, 2015–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns death threats issued against Elena Milashina, an award-winning investigative reporter for the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta and Moscow correspondent for CPJ, and calls on authorities to ensure her safety.

On May 19, Grozny-Inform, an online news agency founded by the Chechen Information Ministry and with a large readership in the southern Russian republic of Chechnya, published a threatening article, titled “Pawns of the USA,” by Grozny-Inform‘s editor Mavsar Varayev, according to Novaya Gazeta. In the piece, Varayev drew comparisons between Milashina and the murdered journalist Anna Politkovskaya, and said: “The next so-called hero, who will pay with her life ‘in defending human rights’ in Russia–this is no other than the special correspondent of Novaya Gazeta.”

The article was published days after Milashina said she had been forced to leave Chechnya after coming under surveillance and being warned by a border guard that she was in danger.

The threats came after Milashina broke a story in Novaya Gazeta in late April about a married, middle-aged regional police chief who planned to take an underage girl from the Chechen village of Baitarki as his additional wife and had allegedly placed guards around the village to prevent her from escaping. The story about the police chief, who according to reports is a friend of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, was quickly picked up by regional and international news outlets.

“Given the track record of murders of journalists in Russia, the authorities must take seriously these threats against our colleague Elena Milashina. They must publicly condemn the threats, investigate, and ensure her safety,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova.

Milashina told CPJ that a smear campaign, in which derogatory comments were made about her online, started after the Chechen president made statements on Instagram disputing her claims that the marriage was forced. She was portrayed in the pro-government media, including on national television, as a provocateur trying to destabilize peace in Chechnya and discredit its administration, Milashina said. According to Chechen news reports, the family of the girl filed a complaint against Milashina with the prosecutor’s office.

In a radio interview with Ekho Moskvy on June 9, Milashina said she considered the threats “a real contract for my murder.” She added that she had no plans to leave Russia.

Milashina is known for her investigative reporting on human rights abuses and corruption in the volatile North Caucasus region of Russia–the country’s most dangerous assignment for journalists. Her Novaya Gazeta colleagues Politkovskaya and Natalya Estemirova were both murdered in direct relation to their work, according to CPJ research. In her blogs for CPJ, Milashina often focuses on the issue of impunity in journalist killings.

Russia has consistently featured in CPJ’s Global Impunity Index, a list of counties where journalists are slain and their killers go free.