Award-winning investigative reporter Elena Milashina, who writes for the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, received death threats that she believes are, “a real contract for my murder.” She also believes that she is the target of an online smear campaign by the Chechen political elite after derogatory comments were made about her online. Milashina has fled Chechnya in fear for her safety.
The crusading journalist travelled to Chechnya in mid-May to investigate the story of an underage bride allegedly being forced into marriage. At the Chechnya-Russia border passport control, a Russian federal patrol officer warned Elena to “watch out for your personal safety carefully.” He later retracted his statement when interviewed by television reporters.
When Milashina broke the story on how the married, middle-aged Chechen police chief was able to marry the 17 year old girl, and how he had allegedly set up guards around the Chechen village of Baytarki to prevent her from escaping, an upswell of outrage swept throughout Russia.
The Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov made statements via his Instagram feed that refuted Milashina's claims that the marriage was forced in an effort to discredit her. In addition, GroznyTV reported that the family of the married girl filed a complaint with the prosecutor’s office against Milashina for gatecrashing the wedding.
Though Kadyrov had vowed to apply Russia's criminal code in Chechnya for bride abduction when he came to power in 2010, various media outlets published photos of a dancing Kadyrov and his chief of staff at the controversial wedding's celebration.
Just days after the wedding, Grozny-Inform, an online news agency founded by the Chechen Information Ministry, published an editorial entitled, “The USA Moves Its Pawns.” In the article, the editor, Mavsar Varayev, drew comparisons between Elena Milashina and the former Novoya Gazeta journalist Anna Politkovskaya who was murdered in 2006 at point blank range in her home in broad daylight.
It read, “If one were to dig into Milashina's biography, about the same is happening with her as with Politkovskaya. The same tactics are being used, and quite probably the next sacrificial victim will be Elena Milashina, only the triggermen this time will definitely not be from the Caucasus."
“Given the track record of murders of journalists in Russia, the authorities must take seriously these threats against our colleague Elena Milashina. They must publicly condemn the threats, investigate, and ensure her safety,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova.
I contacted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the Russian Federation for their reply to points raised in this article, but received no response.
This isn't the first time Elena Milashina has survived an onslaught for investigating and reporting on human rights abuses in Russia. On 4 April 2012, two unidentified men attacked Elena Milashina near her home in a Moscow suburb. They repeatedly kicked and punched her in the head, leaving her with a concussion, extensive bruising and a broken tooth.
Milashina is known for her investigative reporting on human rights abuses and corruption in the volatile North Caucasus region of Russia—the country’s most dangerous assignment for journalists. Her Novaya Gazeta colleagues Anna Politkovskaya and Natalya Estemirova were both murdered in direct relation to their work, according to CPJ research.
In October 2009 Elena Milashina was awarded Human Rights Watch's Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism. The US Department of State also awarded her with the International Women of Courage Award in 2013.
Russia ranks 10th position on CPJ’s Global Impunity Index, a list of counties where journalists are slain and their killers go free.