On March 9, 2016, masked assailants in three cars blocked a small bus carrying two members of the Joint Mobile Group (JMG) as well as six foreign and Russian journalists near the border of Chechnya, violently beat them with bats, robbed them and set the vehicle on fire. According to reports, the attackers called the defenders and journalists by their names, and accused them to be in Chechnya to “defend terrorists”.
The human rights defenders and journalists were participating in a tour organised by the Russian NGO Committee for Prevention of Torture to report on human rights violations in Chechnya and Ingushetia. Reportedly, the group had noticed they were under surveillance since the start of their tour, on March 7. The police investigating on the bus attack reportedly did not find any trace of the computers carried by the group in the bus, which would indicate they wereat taken by the assailants took them.
Several hours after the attack, a group of unidentified camouflaged armed men who came in five cars also broke in JMG’s offices in the Ingush town of Karabulak and stole several computers and material. The Observatory fears that the aim of the attacks was not only to intimidate and violently assault the activists and journalists, but also to take possession of their data.
“We are shocked by these new attacks. If there is no torture to hide, there is no reason to prevent activists and journalists from entering the region”, said OMCT Secretary General Gerald Staberock. “Is it too much to ask for a ‘democratic government’ to condemn such attacks and to investigate those responsible immediately?”
Victims included Mr. Ivan Zhiltsov and Ms. Ekaterina Vanslova, two members of the Committee for Prevention of Torture; Mr. Oeystein Windstad, a correspondent from the Norwegian Ny Tid newspaper; Ms. Lena Maria Persson Loefgren, a Swedish public radio journalist; Ms. Aleksandra Elagina from The New Times, Mr. Egor Skovoroda from Mediazona, freelance journalist Mikhail Solunin and Mr. Anton Prusakov, from the Kommersant newspaper, as well as the bus driver.
The Joint Mobile Group (JMG) is a renowned human rights organisation coordinated by the Committee for Prevention of Torture that has played a crucial role in revealing and documenting continued violations of human rights committed in Chechnya. In 2013, the JMG was awarded the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders.
The JMG has already been subjected to attacks in the past. In December 2014, the offices of JMG in Grozny (Chechnya) were set ablaze. Activists were captured and searched by masked armed men. On June 3, 2015, the offices of the JMG in Grozny were again violently attacked and destroyed by an organised mob. These attacks were committed openly and videotaped, yet they remain unpunished.
“We urge the Russian authorities to bring those responsible to justice, to end all acts of violence against human rights defenders and to stop feeding the impunity by creating a negative image of all media and human right work expressing dissent”, concluded FIDH President Karim Lahidji.
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH. The objective of this programme is to intervene to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders.