CSO of the Week: Novaya gazeta is victim of possible chemical attack after it reports on extra-judicial killings in Chechnya

Week-ending 19 March 2021

On Monday, 15 March 2021, Novaya gazeta, an independent newspaper founded in 1993, said it believes the entrance to its Moscow offices was subject to a chemical attack. The same day the newspaper had published the eye witness account by a former police officer from Chechnya of 13 extra-judicial killings in the republic in 2017. On 18 March Chechen officials called for the newspaper to be banned.

RFE/RL, 15 March 2021: The independent Russian investigative newspaper Novaya gazeta says it believes the entrance to the building in Moscow that houses its offices has been targeted in a “chemical attack.” The periodical, which shares the premises with several other companies, said on March 15 that there was a strong chemical odor in the building detected by all employees and visitors to the newspaper’s offices. Officials and teams from the Emergency Situations Ministry, Interior Ministry, and the Federal Security Service are at the site and working to find the source of the smell, the newspaper said. So far, there has been no official confirmation of any chemical substance in the building. Novaya gazeta’s staff members say that the odor is very similar to one that was present when the home and car of correspondent Yulia Latynina was sprinkled with an unknown chemical in 2017.

The Moscow Times, 15 March 2021: The investigative Novaya Gazeta newspaper on Monday has published a former Chechen police officer’s testimony to the extrajudicial killings of dozens of detainees four years ago. The account of Suleiman Gezmakhmayev, a former staff sergeant of the Akhmad Kadyrov Police Patrol Service Regiment, adds damning evidence to Novaya’s investigations claiming that Chechen security officials executed 27 of more than 100 people detained in late 2016 and early 2017 anti-terror raids. Gezmakhmayev said he had taken part in detaining and guarding at least 56 detainees in the basement of the Kadyrov Regiment gymnasium. They were subjected to starvation, electrocution and beatings with hoses, according to Gezmakhayev.  Novaya reported that an oversight inspection initiated at its request had examined every Kadyrov Regiment building except for the gymnasium. Citing his friend and fellow sergeant Suleiman Saraliyev, Gezmakhmayev said 13 so-called militant commanders — whose names appeared on Novaya Gazeta’s list of victims — had been executed at the Kadyrov Regiment barracks. “He [Saraliyev] said the first one or two ‘amirs’ had been shot, after which the regiment commander said it was better not to stain the room with blood,” Gezmakhmayev said. “So the other ‘amirs’ were strangled with a sports rope,” Novaya quoted Gezmakhmayev’s written testimony as saying. Saraliyev was later accused of homosexual ties and killed in March 2017, Gezmakhmayev said.

The Moscow Times, 18 March 2021: Chechen officials and members of the public are calling for the investigative newspaper Novaya Gazeta to be banned after it reported on extrajudicial killings in the southern Russian region. The chorus of outrage grew after Novaya Gazeta on Monday published an ex-police officer’s eyewitness account of the torture and execution of 13 detainees in 2017. His written testimony added fresh evidence to Novaya’s previous investigations claiming that Chechen security officials executed 27 out of more than 100 people detained in anti-terror raids.

RFE/RL, 18 March 2021: A special police regiment in Russia’s North Caucasus region has urged President Vladimir Putin “to protect” them from “defamation” by the Moscow-based independent investigative newspaper Novaya Gazeta after it published a report about alleged extrajudicial killings and torture by law enforcement in the region. The regiment’s personnel issued a video statement on Instagram on March 17, in which its representatives called Novaya Gazeta, which was co-founded by former President Mikhail Gorbachev in 1993 and is one of the few Russian media outlets critical of the country’s leadership, “a fake periodical,” and its reports ‘defamatory attacks.” The statement also said that the regiment’s members were “ready to carry our any order of the Supreme Commander.”

RFE/RL, 17 March 2021: EU ambassadors have given the green light to sanctions against two Chechen officials accused of involvement in the repression of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Chechnya and other individuals suspected of being opponents of the Moscow-backed leader of Russia’s North Caucasus region, Ramzan Kadyrov. Several EU sources told RFE/RL on March 17 under condition of anonymity that Abuzayed Vismuradov and Ayub Katayev were targeted with asset freezes and visa bans under the EU’s new human rights sanctions regime that came into effect in December. The move is set to enter into force during a meeting of EU foreign ministers on March 22.

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