January 21, 2016
His Excellency Vladimir Putin
President of the Russian Federation
Dear President Putin,
The Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent nonprofit organization that promotes press freedom worldwide, is deeply concerned by the menacing language employed on social media and in the press by government officials in Chechnya against critical journalists and rights activists. Russia has a long record of attacks against and murders of journalists, CPJ research shows; in many cases violence against reporters was preceded by threats against them.
Since January 12 - a day before Russia celebrated the Day of Russian Press - senior government officials in Chechnya have publicly vilified Russian citizens, including journalists and human rights defenders. Among those singled out are Aleksei Venediktov, founder and chief editor of the radio station Ekho Moskvy, anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny, columnist Viktor Shenderovich, human rights defender Igor Kalyapin, the staff of broadcaster Dozhd TV (TV Rain), and the staff of independent news website RBK.
In their Instagram posts, in articles for newspapers Izvestiya and Groznyi-Inform, and in an interview with the state broadcaster, Grozny TV, Ramzan Kadyrov, leader of Chechnya, Magomed Daudov, Kadyrov's chief of staff and a chair of the Chechen parliament, and Dzhambulat Umarov, Chechnya's information minister, made inflammatory and intimidating statements about critical journalists and news outlets, labeling them as "enemies of the people," "traitors," and "jackals" who allegedly "impose Western values" on Russia, and purportedly assist unnamed Western governments to "wreak chaos in Russia."
"We do not understand why such openly hostile to Russia headquarters of the fifth column as Ekho Moskvy and Dozhd TV have been carrying out monstrously cynical experiments hateful to Russia on the consciousness of Russian citizens," wrote Daudov in his article for Groznyi-Inform. Alleging that the reporters and activists sought to "incite interethnic violence," "discredit the country's leadership," and "spread panic," Daudov rhetorically asked when there would be "a logical end to the activities of the saboteurs."
In a January 18 article titled "Jackals will be punished according to the laws of the Russian Federation" for the pro-Kremlin newspaper Izvestiya, Kadyrov proposed placing government opponents in a psychiatric facility. A day earlier, Daudov used his Instagram account to menace the reporters. The official published a photograph of Kadyrov with a Caucasian shepherd dog, and said "its fangs itched" because of Venediktov, Kalyapin, and politicians Ilya Ponomaryov and Ilya Yashin.
Venediktov told a reporter that he viewed the comments by Kadyrov and Daudov as threats, which he was taking seriously, and that he had reported them to "every head of every Russian law enforcement agency," requesting protection. "We hope that the head of the Investigative Committee of Russia, Alexander Bastrykin, will ask President Putin why officials threatening a chief editor of a federal media [outlet] are still holding their posts," he told The Daily Beast.
Mr. President, we are concerned that the verbal attacks made by state officials against our colleagues in Russia not turn into threats to their safety. Whereas the officials, like all Russian citizens, are entitled to express their opinion, our research shows that menacing rhetoric against government critics has often been followed by violence, and has encouraged self-censorship among reporters.
According to news reports and statements by Russian rights activists, at least two Russian journalists, Anna Politkovskaya and Natalya Estemirova, reported receiving threats from Chechen authorities, including Kadyrov, before they were murdered. Kadyrov denied any involvement in the killings and has never been charged in connection with the murders.
We call on you to condemn any attempt to intimidate the press, and ask you to use your status as the guarantor of the Russian constitution to ensure that state officials respect journalists' constitutional right to criticize the government and state agencies. We further call on you to do everything in your power to ensure that all journalists are able to work freely, and their rights are not compromised by threats, harassment, violence, or attempts to intimidate them.
Sergey I. Kislyak, Ambassador of the Russian Federation to the U.S.
John F. Tefft, U.S. Ambassador to the Russian FederationAleksandr Bastrykin, Head of Russia's Investigative Committee
Yuri Chaika, Russia's Prosecutor-General
Dunja Mijatovic, OSCE Freedom of the Media Representative
Nils Muiznieks, Commissioner for Human Rights, Council of Europe
Anne Brasseur, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe
Guy Berger, Director, Division of Freedom of Expression and Media Development, UNESCO
Thorbjørn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe