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Chechen official and preachers threaten Novaya Gazeta journalists

A man holds a photograph of murdered Novaya Gazeta investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya outside the newspaper's Moscow office on October 7, 2014, the eighth anniversary of her death. Politkovskaya was known for her work exposing human rights abuses in Chechnya and the North Caucasus region. (AP/Ivan Sekretarev)

New York, April 14, 2017--Russian authorities should investigate threats preachers and an adviser to the Chechen president made against the staff of the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta and should ensure the journalists' safety, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Novaya Gazeta issued a statement yesterday saying it feared for the safety of its reporters after Adam Shahidov, an advisor to the Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, and Muslim preachers accused the newspaper of defamation and threatened retaliation at a large gathering in a mosque in central Grozny. Novaya Gazeta earlier this month published investigative articles reporting that more than 100 men whom authorities suspected of homosexual acts were rounded up and tortured in secret prisons in the North Caucasus republic. At least three men were killed, according to Novaya Gazeta.

Alvi Karimov, Kadyrov's spokesman, called Novaya Gazeta's report "an absolute lie," saying in an April 1 interview with Russia's state-funded Interfax news agency there were no gay men in Chechnya to be persecuted.

"Nobody can detain or harass anyone who is simply not present in the republic," Karimov said.

At the April 3, 2017, gathering of some 15,000 men, Chechen presidential adviser Adam Shahidov called the Novaya Gazeta journalists "enemies of our faith and our motherland" and promised "vengeance." The resolution adopted at the gathering included a "promise that retribution will catch up with the hatemongers wherever and whoever they are, without a statute of limitations," according to Novaya Gazeta, which said in its statement that it was "obvious that the resolution will encourage religious fanatics to retaliate against our journalists."

Novaya Gazeta has lost six of its journalists to contract-style murders in direct retaliation for their work over the past two decades. Two of them--Anna Politkovskaya and Natalya Estermirova--were known for investigating human rights abuses in Chechnya and the North Caucasus region, which remains the most dangerous assignment in the Russian Federation. Both Politkovskaya's and Estermirova's murders remain unsolved.

"We are appalled by the threats against Novaya Gazeta's journalists and call on Russian federal authorities to ensure the safety of the newspaper's staff," CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. "Novaya Gazeta reporters have taken enormous risks and have paid the highest price for uncovering human rights abuses and speaking truth to power. They should not fear for their safety because they are doing their job."

Novaya Gazeta editor Dmitry Muratov filed a complaint with the Prosecutor General's office on April 8, 2017, but has yet received no response, the newspaper reported.

Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said today that it was closely following the situation, and that anyone who thought Novaya's report was false should contest it through the courts.

"We are against any actions that could pose a threat to the safety or lives of journalists," Peskov told reporters in Moscow today.

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