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Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov is seen in Grozny, Russia, on May 10, 2019. Kadyrov recently threatened journalist Elena Milashina. (AP/Musa Sadulayev)

Chechen leader threatens journalist Elena Milashina over COVID-19 reporting

April 15, 2020 2:30 PM ET

Vilnius, Lithuania, April 15, 2020 -- Russian authorities should condemn Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov’s threats to journalist Elena Milashina and ensure her safety, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

In an April 13 speech, Kadyrov accused Milashina, a correspondent for independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, of writing “nonsense” and blamed the Federal Security Service for not silencing her, according to a transcript of his remarks published by Novaya Gazeta.

He said, “if you [the security services] want us to commit a crime and become criminals, then say so. Someone will take the burden of responsibility and will be punished under the law.”

The speech was in response to Milashina’s April 12 report that quarantined Chechens had stopped reporting coronavirus symptoms for fear of being labeled “terrorists.”

“Journalists are already facing immense danger in covering the COVID-19 pandemic, and should not also have to endure threats against their lives by political leaders,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Russian federal authorities should ensure the safety of Elena Milashina and her colleagues at Novaya Gazeta. Condemning Ramzan Kadyrov’s verbal attacks and opening an investigation would be the first steps for authorities to show they are taking this situation seriously.”

Speaking to CPJ via phone from Moscow, Milashina said she is “really afraid, as Kadyrov’s threats are really serious and he is a dangerous man. I know that if he really decides to kill me, he will do it.”

Of the 38 journalists that CPJ has determined were murdered in Russia in retaliation for their reporting since 1992, at least six had covered Chechnya, CPJ research shows.

Milashina said she had appealed to the Investigative Committee of Russia and to the prosecutor general’s office, but got no answer. “The state does not want to defend me,” said Milashina, who is a former correspondent for CPJ.

CPJ called and emailed both institutions and the investigative department of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation for the Chechen Republic, but no one picked up the phone or replied to those messages.

Yesterday, Kadyrov said his threats were actually meant for liberal radio station Ekho Moskvy, not Novaya Gazeta, according to news reports.

In early March, Milashina and human rights lawyer Marina Dubrovina were beaten in the Chechen capital, Grozny, as CPJ documented at the time. In his channel on the Telegram messaging app, Kadyrov said Chechen authorities investigated the beating but found no evidence the incident occurred, according to reports.