Moments after landing in the Russian republic of Chechnya, prominent investigative journalist Yelena Milashina was severely assaulted by masked men. Not far from the airport, she described being forced out of a car, assaulted with plastic pipes, and having her scalp shaved and doused with green dye.
The notorious commander of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, has previously issued death threats to Ms. Milashina. She was traveling with the injured attorney Alexander Nemov. They had just arrived at the Grozny airport in order to observe a court ruling about the mother of three critics of Kadyrov who had been sent into exile. However, they were unable to attend the hearing where Zarema Musayeva was sentenced to five and a half years in prison on politically motivated allegations.
Since 2007, Ramzan Kadyrov has been the leader of Chechnya. Widely accused of ordering extrajudicial killings, abductions, and torture at home, he is a staunch ally of Vladimir Putin and a cheerleader for the conflict in Ukraine. Within a short distance of the airport, a group of at least ten masked men in three vehicles ambushed the journalist and attorney's vehicle. She subsequently stated that they believed the men were waiting inside the airport.
Mr. Nemov was quoted as informing the Russian bar association that they threw him and his companions to the side of the road and began to kick them in the face and all over their bodies and they stabbed him in the leg. Ms. Milashina explained that they were then dragged into a ravine, where they were beaten with plastic polypropylene pipes by men who demanded that they access their mobile phones. She stated that her password was too difficult to enter while being pummeled.
"They didn't understand, and by the time they did, they had already shaved me and poured green dye on me, and I couldn't see a thing," she told Sergei Babinets of the human rights organization Crew against Torture. Although the dye is used as an antiseptic, it has previously been employed in assaults against Russian dissidents, including Alexei Navalny.
As a result to the beating, she sustained a brain injury and was initially diagnosed with three broken fingers, although doctors subsequently determined that they were intact. Alexander Nemov was also severely injured, and Crew Against Torture posted an image of his leg laceration. Ms. Milashina stated that the polypropylene pipes they were beaten with were "extremely painful" and were typically employed against detainees.
The Kremlin stated that it was a severe attack that required investigation. Memorial, a Russian-banned human rights organization, stated that Moscow and Grozny authorities were "united in their actions". In February 2022, Ms. Milashina departed Russia after Kadyrov labeled her a terrorist and stated, "We have always eliminated terrorists and their accomplices." In 2020, she was assaulted alongside another attorney, Marina Dubrovina.
Her investigative reporting documenting human rights violations in Chechnya followed in the footsteps of two women who were murdered for doing similar work in the region. Anna Politkovskaya, a colleague at Novaya Gazeta, was murdered in Moscow in 2006, while her companion and fellow activist Natalia Estemirova was abducted and executed in Grozny. Ms. Milashina stated last week that she was fully aware that Kadyrov and his entourage could "easily carry out" his assassination threats.