An award-winning Russian journalist, who has spent years investigating purported human rights abuses in Chechnya, has been seriously injured in an attack by armed masked men.
Yelena Milashina had just arrived in the Russian province where she was due to attend the court sentencing of Zarema Musayeva, a woman who was allegedly unjustly persecuted for political reasons.
Ms Milashina was travelling to Chechnya‘s capital Grozny with a lawyer Alexander Nemov when they were both attacked just outside the local airport.
Their vehicle was blocked by several cars and they were beaten by several masked assailants, who put guns to their heads and broke their equipment.
Ms Milashina suffered a brain injury and several broken fingers, while Mr Nemov had a deep cut on his leg, according to the journalist’s newspaper, Novaya Gazeta.
Both were taken to a hospital in Grozny, where she repeatedly lost consciousness.
Ms Milashina, who received an International Women of Courage Award from the US state department in 2013, said the attack looked like a “classic abduction”, as she spoke in a video from her hospital bed.
She has also been pictured talking on the phone with green antiseptic covering her face and several bruises on her shaven head.
Ms Milashina said: “They threw the driver out of the car, got in, bent our heads down, tied my hands, forced me down to my knees and put a gun to my head.”
The Kremlin called it “a very serious attack” and said it had to be investigated, adding Vladimir Putin had been informed.
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, a close ally of the Russian president, wrote on Telegram: “We’ll sort it out. I have instructed the competent services to make every effort to identify the attackers.”
Meanwhile, the Russian ministry for digital development and mass communications called it a “monstrous assault” and said it would assist both of them.
A few hours after the attack, a Chechen court sentenced Zarema Musayeva to five-and-a-half years behind bars on charges of insulting and violently resisting police, an accusation that human rights groups have rejected and deemed false.
Ms Musayeva is the mother of two local activists who have challenged Chechen authorities.
Ms Milashina has investigated alleged human rights abuses in Chechnya, including what she said was the mass arrest and torture of gay men in the region.
She had received threats to her life before.
Her employer evacuated her from Russia last year after Kadyrov described her as a terrorist in a social media post and she was assaulted in Chechnya in 2020.
Kadyrov denies rights abuses, saying such claims are made up by critics trying to discredit Chechnya and its authorities.