Vilnius, Lithuania, January 28, 2021 — North Ossetia authorities should investigate the attack on journalist Ruslan Totrov and hold those responsible to account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On January 21, two men entered Totrov’s office in Vladikavkaz, the capital of North Ossetia, and attacked the journalist while he was in a studio recording a video blog, according to news reports and Totrov, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview.
The men hit Totrov in the face, cutting his lip and breaking two of his teeth, while threatening to kill him if he did not stop writing “nasty things and lies about their ‘brother,’ South Ossetia President Anatoly Bibilov,” according to Totrov and video of the assault uploaded to YouTube.
Bibilov is the head of the neighboring self-declared republic of South Ossetia, which Russia recognizes as independent, but which many other countries recognize as part of Georgia; North Ossetia is an autonomous republic within Russia, according to reports.
Totrov is the political editor of Osnova.news, an independent news website, and also posts political commentary on his YouTube channel, where he has about 1,000 followers. His recent reporting and commentary has covered alleged corruption in South Ossetia, the death of a young man in police custody, and protests over that man’s death.
North Ossetian police launched an investigation into the attack, according to reports. Totrov told CPJ that he recognized one of the attackers as an official from the South Ossetia Defense Ministry, and the other as a close friend of Bibilov, and said they were filmed on the office’s security cameras.
“Assaulting journalists because of their work is absolutely unacceptable, and should be punished,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Furthermore, the attack on Ruslan Totrov was so brazen that the threats of death if he continues reporting must be taken seriously. Russian authorities in North Ossetia should find and hold to account the men responsible.”
Bibilov’s press office rejected any connection to the incident, calling the allegations a “provocation” that is “reminiscent of actions of the opposition,” according to news reports. Dina Gassiyeva, Bibilov’s spokesperson, said the administration was “hoping for a prompt clarification of all the circumstances of the attack on the journalist,” according to those reports.
On January 22, the head of the North Ossetian parliament, Aleksey Machnev, condemned the attack, according to reports.
CPJ called the Ministry of Defense of South Ossetia and Bibilov’s office for comment, but no one answered. CPJ emailed the Ministry of Interior of North Ossetia for comment but did not immediately receive any response