Stop Attacks on Human Rights Defenders and Journalists in the North Caucasus

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Stop Attacks on Human Rights Defenders and Journalists in the North Caucasus,  
Conduct Effective Investigation and Bring Perpetrators to JusticeStatement of the Steering Committee of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum

Steering Committee of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum expresses its indignation at a series of violent attacks that took place today in Chechnya and Ingushetia at independent journalists and staff of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture, a member of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum.

In the evening today, 9 March, a minibus with human rights defenders and independent journalists from Russia, Sweden and Norway, participating in a press tour organized by the Committee for the Prevention of Torture, experiences an impudent attack by a group of unknown persons at the administrative border between Chechnya and Ingushetia. Three cars blocked the bus on its way to Grozny, and around twenty young men in masks and with truncheons smashed the windows of the bus, forced the passengers and the driver get off the bus, brutally beat them all with truncheons and sticks, put the bus on fire with personal belongings and documents of the human rights defenders and journalists, and left. Four people among the attacked were admitted to a hospital with the serious traumas. 

Soon after this event, in the evening, another group of people in camouflage clothes wearing masks and armed with automatic guns and pistols attacked the headquarters of the Joint Mobile Group of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture in Karabulak (Ingushetia). The attackers came in five cars, failed to force the office door, and broke inside through the windows. It is not clear what happened next because attackers smashed the surveillance video cameras. Fortunately, nobody was inside the office at this moment. 

According to the human rights defenders, during the last few days they had been constantly followed by people in cars with license plates from Chechnya. 

There is every reason to assert that this was a series of coordinated attacks. Their impudent and demonstrative character leave no doubts that their organizers pursue the goal of intimidating human rights defenders and independent journalists and forcing them to quit their professional activities.

We remind that the office of the Joint Mobile Group had been already violently attacked two times in the past. In 2014, the office was set on fire by unknown persons, and in 2015 it was vandalized and destroyed. In both cases, official investigation has not identified the perpetrators. Numerous other attacks, threats, abductions, torture, and even murders of journalists and human rights defenders in the North Caucasus also remain unsolved. Open pressure on human rights defenders and journalists by the Chechen leadership, inaction of federal authorities and lack of effective investigation create an atmosphere of impunity and lead to the new crimes. 

This situation is absolutely unacceptable. We urge the Russian authorities to take immediate action, immediately stop these attacks, conduct a thorough investigation and bring all perpetrators to justice. Authorities should fulfil their international obligations and ensure safe and favourable conditions for the work of human rights defenders and journalists in the North Caucasus.

We call on international organisations and the governments of Sweden and Norway to react urgently to these crimes. 

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