Case History: Elena Milashina
On 16 March 2016, the Ombudsman of the Chechen Republic Mr Nurdi Nukhazhiev announced that he had requested the Investigation Committee of the Russian Federation to initiate a criminal case against human rights defender Ms Elena Milashina.
Elena Milashina is a human rights defender and an investigative journalist working for Novaya Gazeta, an independent Russian newspaper. Through her research and reports she has drawn international attention to the Russian government’s crackdown on civil society, as well as gross human rights abuses continuing in the Northern Caucasus. In cooperation with international and domestic human rights NGOs, she documents cases of enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention, extrajudicial executions, torture, and persecution of relatives of alleged insurgents in Chechnya and other republics in the Northern Caucasus, continuing investigations started by her colleagues Ms Anna Politkovskaya and Ms Natalia Estemirova.
On 9 December 2016, human rights defender Mr. Ramzan Dzhalaldinov gave a press conference in Moscow regarding death threats and reprisals made against him and his family from high ranked Chechen officials following his exposure of corruption in Chechnya. He filed the complaint to the head of the Federal Investigative Committee and to the Ministry of Internal Affairs seeking State protection. Ms Elena Milashina, a human rights defender and journalist has also received numerous threats for her coverage of Ramzan Dzhalaldinov's story.
Ramzan Dzhalaldinov is a human rights defender from Kenkhi, a mountain village in Chechnya’s remote Charoi region, whose infrastructure has been extensively damaged and destroyed as a result of the recent Chechen wars and seasonal landslides. Since 2010, Ramzan Dzhalaldinov has been demanding the Chechen government launch the reconstruction of the village as the required funding was allocated by the Russian government in 2004. In April 2016, Ramzan Dzhalaldinov recorded a video, which was then widely shared via online media platforms and television networks, where he voiced his concerns about the continuous disregard of the Chechen authority vis-à-vis of the situation of the village and accused Chechen authorities of corruption and misuse of public funds. Since sharing the video, Ramzan Dzhalaldinov has been subjected to death threats against him and his family, intimidations, arson of his home, and the confiscation of his passport. His family members have also been physically attacked.
Elena Milashina is a human rights defender and investigative journalist working for Novaya Gazeta, a leading Russian independent newspaper. She documents cases of enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention, extrajudicial executions, torture, and persecution in Chechnya and other republics in the Northern Caucasus, continuing investigations started by her assassinated colleagues Ms Anna Politkovskaya and Ms Natalia Estemirova. Elena Milashina has received numerous threats from individuals who claimed to be high ranking Chechen officials, in connection with her coverage of Ramzan Dzhalaldinov's case.
On 9 December 2016, Novaya Gazeta, a leading Russian independent paper, the human rights organisation Memorial and Human Rights Watch held a press conference in Moscow, where Ramzan Dzhalaldinov made a statement regarding the death threats and retaliatory actions by high ranking Chechen officials against him and his family. The human rights defender asked for state protection and signed a complaint addressed to the head of Russian’s Federal Investigative Committee, asking to investigate the Chechen officials’ actions.
On 2 November 2016, Ramzan Dzhalaldinov and his wife, Ms Nasirat Dzhalaldinova, were forcedly taken by police officers to Grozny for a meeting with Chechnya’s Deputy Minister for Internal Affairs, Mr Apti Alautdinov. During the meeting Ramzan and Nasirat Dzhalaldinov were rebuked for their communication with Russian human rights defenders and journalists, such as Elena Milashina, and for their complaints against Chechnyan authorities. Apti Alautdinov reminded them of the assassinations of human rights journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was murdered in 2006, of human rights defender Natalia Estemirova, who was murdered in 2009 as well as of the murder of Mr Boris Nemtsov, a pro-democracy politician in 2015. Apti Alautdinov threatened Ramzan Dzhalaldinov, saying that he and Elena Milashina will meet the same fate if they don’t remain silent. Following the meeting, Ramzan Dzhalaldinov and his wife were driven back to Kenkhi by police officers who also threatened them and confiscated Ramzan Dzhalaldinov’s passport so that he would not be able to leave Chechnya. Following this incident, Ramazan Dzhalaldinov fled the next morning at dawn, without documents, crossing into Dagestan. His family remains in Chechnya and cannot leave because the regular road out of the village, as well as Ramzan Dzhalaldinov’s home are under surveillance and tightly controlled by Chechen law enforcement officials.
This is not the first time that the human rights defender was forced to flee Chechnya. In May 2016, following the release of the video accusing Chechen authorities of corruption, Ramzan Dzhalaldinov received threats from authorities and was compelled to leave his family and flee Kenkhi for Dagestan. On 15 May 2016, while the human rights defender was in hiding, local officials physically attacked his wife and eldest daughter, drove all four members of his family to the border with Dagestan, and ordered them to leave Chechnya. Local officials also threatened to kill the members of Ramzan Dzhalaldinov’s family if they did not convince him to retract his critical statements against the Chechen authorities. That same night, Ramzan Dzhalaldinov’s home was subjected to arson.
Front Line Defenders is deeply concerned about the reprisals and the death threats against Ramzan Dzhalaldinov and his family members, as well as the threats against human rights journalist Elena Milashina, which it believes to be related to their legitimate and peaceful human rights work.
Front Line Defenders urges the authorities of the Russian Federation to:
1. Carry out an immediate, thorough and impartial investigation into the death threats against Ramzan Dzhalaldinov and Elena Milashina, with a view to publishing the results and bringing those responsible to justice in accordance with international standards;
2.Take all necessary measures to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity and security of Elena Milashina, Ramzan Dzhalaldinov and their family members;
3. Carry out an immediate, thorough and impartial investigation into the physical attack and death threats against Ramzan Dzhalaldinov’s family members, as well as the arson of the human rights defender’s home;
4. Immediately and unconditionally remove all restrictions on the free movement of Ramzan Dzhalaldinov, returning his unlawfully confiscated passport, and cease all further forms of surveillance or harassment against him and his family, as it is believed that these measures are not only solely related to his legitimate human rights activities but, furthermore, constitute a direct transgression of the rights of Ramzan Dzhalaldinov and his family members;
5. Ensure that the ongoing investigation into the murders of Natalia Estemirova and Anna Politkovskaya be thorough and impartial, with a view to bringing those responsible to justice in accordance with international standards;
6. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in the Russian Federation are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions.
On 16 March 2016, the Ombudsman of the Chechen Republic Mr Nurdi Nukhazhiev announced that he had requested the Investigation Committee of the Russian Federation to initiate a criminal case against human rights defender Ms Elena Milashina under Article 128.1 of the Criminal Code “Defamation”.
A press release was published on the web-site of the Ombudsman of the Chechen Republic on 16 March 2016, in which Elena Milashina was accused by the Ombudsman of "spreading false information" with respect to the Chairman of the Chechen Parliament Magomed Daudov. The Ombusman referred to an article published by Elena Milashina in Novaya Gazeta on 10 March 2016, in which the human rights defender described an attempt by the Chechen police to abduct a member of the human rights organisation “Committee for Prevention of Torture” on 22 February 2016. Elena Milashina suggested that the abduction had been ordered by Magomed Daudov. In the press release the Ombudsman insisted that the human rights defender knew that no criminal charges had been filed against Magomed Daudov under Article 126 of the Criminal Code “Abduction”, yet presented the information in a way that led readers to believe it was the case. In light of this, the Ombudsman requested the Investigation Committee to initiate the criminal case against Elena Milashina.
Front Line Defenders is concerned by the judicial harassment of Elena Milashina, which it believes to be a clear attempt to intimidate her, directly linked to her legitimate work in the defence of human rights. The threat of legal action against her is especially worrying given the escalating situation in Chechnya and increasing harassment and attacks against human rights defenders working in the region.
Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in Russia to:
1. Drop the initiation of legal action against Elena Milashina, and cease all further harassment of the human rights defender, as Front Line Defenders believes that the request for legal action filed by the Ombudsman of the Chechen Republic with the Investigation Committee is solely a result of her legitimate work in defence of human rights in Chechnya;
2. Take all necessary measures to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity and security of Elena Milashina;
3. Take measures to ensure that government officials and other public figures refrain from making statements or declaration stigmatising the legitimate work of human rights defenders;
4. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Russia are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions.
On 9 June 2015, the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported the publication of death threats made against its reporter Ms Elena Milashina by the Chechen news agency “Grozny-inform".
The death threats against Elena Milashina were reported by the Novaya Gazeta in response to their appearance in an article entitled “The USA playing pawns”, published in "Grozny-inform". The article presents arguments for a Western conspiracy against Russia and Chechnya, calling on Western states to accept direct responsibility for human rights violations that occured during the Chechen wars. According to the article, human rights defenders and journalists, who reveal human rights abuses in Chechnya are supported and guided by Western states aiming to destabilise Russia. The author, Mr Mawsar Waraew, targets Elena Milashina and her human rights activities, describing them as groundless and worthless. He compares the human rights defender with Anna Politkovskaya, who was a prominent human rights defender and journalist, and warns Milashina about her activities in Chechnya, as Politkovskaya was “murdered just at the right moment”. Mawsar Waraew concludes the article by describing the human rights defender as the “right person to pay for human rights in Russia with her life”, and ironically expressing the hope that the "International Women of Courage" award, which the human rights defender received in 2013, would not become a “posthumous award”.
The author of the article, Mawsar Waraew, is the deputy director and editor-in-chief of the news agency “Grozny-inform" which was founded in 2002 by the Chechen Ministry on national policy, foreign connections, press and information. The news agency has the largest circulation in Chechnya. According to the Article 144.2 of the Russian Code of Criminal Procedure, any public report about a crime, such as that published by Novaya Gazeta detailing the death threats made against Elena Milashina, should be a subject to an immediate investigation by the responsible Prosecutor.