In Russia, March 10, 2016

A minibus carrying foreign reporters and members of an anti-torture NGO to the southern Russian republic of Chechnya was reportedly assaulted by a group of armed men in nearby Ingushetia, leaving several activists injured. Police are investigating the attack.

Small bus carrying Russian human rights activists and int'l journalists attacked and torched near Chechnya on March 9, 2016 (AP photo)

Small bus carrying Russian human rights activists and int’l journalists attacked and torched near Chechnya on March 9, 2016 (AP photo)

Initial media reports based on law enforcement sources suggest that, on Wednesday night, some 20 men assaulted a vehicle used by “Committee for Prevention of Torture,” a Russian non-governmental organization also known as “No Torture.” The attack reportedly took place on a highway not far from the Chechen Republic border, which was the group’s destination.

“A group of journalists and human rights activists was heading for Chechnya, also in the North Caucasus, in a Ford car. About 20 people attacked them near the Ordzhonikidzovskaya settlement on the Kavkaz federal highway. They confiscated the mobile phones [from the journalists and human rights activists], set their Ford car on fire, and drove away,” a local law enforcement source said, as cited by TASS.

As a result of an attack, four victims were hospitalized at the Sunzha district hospital, according to medical sources. Two journalists, one Swedish and another Norwegian, are reportedly among the injured.

The attack on the vehicle has been confirmed by local police, and local Interior Minister Aleksandr Trofimov has arrived at the scene to oversee the investigation. Police are considering launching a criminal over charges of hooliganism, intentional destruction of property, and damage of property.

“Unidentified persons stopped a minibus in the outskirts of the town of Sunzha on the 595th kilometer of the Kavkaz federal highway and attacked the passengers,” Ingushetia’s interior ministry said in a statement.

“No Torture” head Igor Kalyapin, who is also a Presidential Human Rights Council member, reported that “human rights activists from the ‘Free mobile group’ [a branch of the NGO operating in Chechnya] and journalists were attacked and beaten.”

The NGO listed the names of those who were in the attacked bus on its Facebook page. It includes Swedish and Norwegian journalists, six Russian human rights activists, and a driver.

The foreign journalists have been identified as a Swedish Radio’s Moscow correspondent Maria Persson-Löfgren and Norwegian reporter Oystein Windstad of the Oslo daily Ny Tid. Both journalists were hospitalized.

Commenting on Persson-Löfgren’s condition, head of  Swedish broadcaster news division, Ginna Lindberg, told TASS that “Under this circumstances she feels well. She has a minor injury, she was stabbed, she has a cut on her thigh. At the moment she is safe.”

Meanwhile, Windstad has given an interview to the Norwegian paper Aftenposten, describing the attack as terrifying and saying that the assailants attempted to drag him out of the bus, while beating him with sticks and “sharp objects.”

The Committee for Prevention of Torture is a Russian non-governmental interregional organization founded in 2000 by a group of human rights activists. It focuses on the incidents of torture and abuse by carrying public investigations and representing the victims’ interests in courts. It also purports to assist the victims of ill-treatment with necessary medical rehabilitation.

Putin orders urgent investigation into attack on journalists near Chechnya, March 10, 2016

The Russian president has ordered the Interior Ministry to clarify all the circumstances behind Wednesday’s attack on a group of reporters and rights activists on their way to the Chechen capital, Grozny, and “issue a legal appraisal” of this incident.

According to Vladimir Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov, senior Russian authorities considered the threat to the lives of journalists and rights advocates “absolutely unacceptable” and expected the law enforcers to find and detain all attackers in order to ensure the safety of human rights activists and representatives of mass media.

The attack on several reporters from Russia, Sweden and Norway, and representatives of the NGO ‘Committee Against Torture’, took place on Wednesday night in the Republic of Ingushetia near the border with Chechnya. According to the victims a large group of masked people armed with wooden truncheons dragged them out of their car and set it on fire. Four people, including two foreign journalists, sustained injuries in the process. The attackers reportedly accused the NGO members of supporting terrorists.

Ingushetia police are investigating the attack as the premeditated destruction of other people’s property and hooliganism. The top authorities of the republic have promised to hold the probe under special control.

The head of Russia’s Human Rights Council, Mikhail Fedotov, has told reporters that he considered it extremely important that this case is thoroughly investigated and solved and all its perpetrators are duly punished.

However, some officials expressed skepticism over the statements of those who suffered from the attack. Chechen Human Rights representative Nurdi Nukhadjiyev said in press comments that the crime could have been masterminded by “forces interested in destabilizing the situation in the region and in the state in general” and named the chairman of the Committee against Torture, Igor Kalyapin, as the likely figure behind the scheme.

“I am not accusing him, but I say that this looks like his trademark style,” Nukhadjiyev emphasized.

The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a comment on the incident in which it condemned the attack and expressed hope that its perpetrators would be found and punished. The ministry also said in the release that of the two foreign journalists who were injured, one was working in Russia without proper accreditation.

Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev ordered the head of the Ingushetia police and the head of his ministry’s directorate for the North Caucasus Federal District to take exhaustive measures to ensure that those involved in the attack on reporters are detained. The minister added that the appraisal of Wednesday’s events will be given after all details are disclosed and studied.


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