A March 24, 2012 photo depicts the city of Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan, Russia. A journalist there told CPJ she received a death threat in a phone call. (Reuters/Grigory Dukor)

Journalist from Dagestan, Russia threatened with death in a phone call

New York, July 27, 2020 – Authorities in the Russian republic of Dagestan should conduct a swift and thorough investigation into the death threat against journalist Svetlana Anokhina and ensure she has adequate protection, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. 

On July 22, a man called Anokhina and threatened to kill her, the journalist told CPJ in a phone interview. Anokhina, a Dagestani journalist, is the chief editor of Daptar.ru, an independent site dedicated to women’s issues in the Caucasus.

Anokhina told CPJ that the threat may have been in response to her journalistic work. She said that the timing of the call made her believe that it may have been about one specific article she edited on a controversial case. The article, published on Daptar.ru the day before the threat was made, alleged that Chechen and federal-level authorities failed to investigate the alleged murder of a Chechen woman by her husband. On the day of its publication, Anokhina shared and discussed the story on her Facebook page, which counts more than 6,000 followers.

“Authorities in Dagestan should thoroughly investigate the death threat against journalist Svetlana Anokhina and hold the perpetrators to account,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “Anokhina covers important issues for Russia’s North Caucasus, such as women’s rights. She and other journalists must be able to do their work without fear of repercussions, and the government should ensure their safety and take such threats seriously.”

Journalist Svetlana Anokhina pictured interviewing a local artist. (Aydemir Daganov)

Anokhina said a man called her on her mobile phone multiple times between 6-7 p.m. on July 22, though the first three or four calls were dropped due to a poor connection. Anokhina said that on the next call, the man confirmed he was speaking to her. After that call dropped, Anokhina said she recorded the subsequent phone call on her phone. In the recording, which CPJ reviewed, the man said he was “given orders to take care of these feminists,” and that his relative was the “boss” at the Soviet district police station of the Dagestani capital Makhachkala. He is then heard introducing himself and saying that he will kill Anokhina.

After hanging up, Anokhina said she looked up the phone number, and found that it was registered to a different name. Looking up that name, she found an Instagram account with photos featuring location tags in Dagestan and the neighboring republic of Chechnya. Anokhina said she sent this information to the number that called her, via messaging app. She said a man called back and denied that he was the man who initially called her and that he had threatened her life.

Anokhina told CPJ that she previously received threats over her journalistic work. On July 14, she criticized Magomed Kurbandibirov, deputy imam of the Grand Mosque of Makhachkala, in posts on Facebook and Instagram after Kurbandibirov made statements in support of female circumcision in an interview with a Russian journalist. After that, Anokhina received several anonymous messages on her social media accounts insulting her and demanding her to “shut up,” she told CPJ.

In 2018, she received tens of anonymous messages on social media from people threatening to “find her” and “put her into the ground” after she wrote Facebook posts criticizing Eldar Iraziev, an entertainer and blogger formerly based in Dagestan, who had condemned an upcoming anime festival as “immoral” on his Instagram account, which has since been deleted, said Anokhina. She told CPJ she defended the festival, which was eventually canceled after Iraziev’s supporters threatened the organizers and would-be participants, according to media reports. CPJ reviewed the screenshots of some of these messages containing insults and threats; Anokhina told CPJ she has deleted the majority of the messages.

Anokhina said the July 22 phone call was the first time she received a direct death threat on the phone. “I am worried, because sooner or later these threats could be implemented,” she told CPJ. She said that the Instagram photos tagged in Chechnya made her concerned that the threat had a potential connection to the republic. “Any reasonable person would feel concerned when Chechnya is involved, because of the republic’s bloodthirsty regime,” Anokhina said.

On April 13, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov publicly threatened journalist Elena Milashina, a correspondent for independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, over her COVID-19 reporting, as CPJ reported at the time. In March, a group of unidentified people beat up Milashina and human rights lawyer Marina Dubrovina in the Chechen capital Grozny, as CPJ documented.

Anokhina told CPJ that she filed a complaint about the threatening call on the website of Dagestan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs. Reached by CPJ via phone on July 24, Gayana Garieva, head of the ministry’s Department of Information and Public Relations, told CPJ that the ministry received Anokhina’s complaint and is investigating the matter.