On November 24, Alvi Kerimov, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov's chief spokesperson, verbally attacked RFE/RL on a talk show broadcast on Chechen State Television and Radio Company (ChGTRK), Chechnya's main state-sponsored TV channel, accusing the radio of espionage. He didn't name anyone specifically, but said that RFE/RL correspondents in Chechnya had sold out to the enemies for "a thousand dollars." As Kadyrov's spokesperson, Kerimov is known for saying nothing on his own initiative or that might contradict the Chechen leader's position. ChGTRK is the Chechen affiliate of VGTRK, All-Russia State Television and Radio Company.
Nenad Pejic, Associate Director at RFE/RL, said the incident marked "the first time a Chechen official has launched such a vitriolic attack on us. I am afraid this signifies a hardening of their position towards us and a determination to make our operation in Chechnya more difficult."
RFE/RL broadcasts Chechen language programs from its Prague headquarters on short-wave and satellite, two hours daily.
International advocacy organizations have long protested the appalling human rights situation in Chechnya, which was epitomized by the murder last July of Natalya Estemirova, a Grozny-based researcher and activist for the renowned Russian rights group, Memorial
. Anna Politkovskaya, a reporter for Russia's Novaya Gazetawho was dedicated to covering human rights abuses in Chechnya, was gunned down in October 2006. In a meeting last month at Washington’s Center for Strategic and Independent Studies (CSIS), Tanya Lokshina, deputy director for Human Rights Watch's Russia office, reflected on these deaths - and others - and told the audience that “independent civic activity in Russia is lethal.” As a result of murders of journalists and human rights activists, she added, “there is no human rights monitoring on the ground in Chechnya.”
Asked what the West can do, Lokshina said that such attacks and abuses “are not Russia’s internal affairs” and that the US and others must make regular inquiries about the progress of investigations and the state of civil society. Asked whether it was time to shift the burden for supporting human rights from practioners and journalists to policymakers and diplomats, Lokshina said that neither Europe nor the US have elaborated a coherent human rights policy toward Russia, but that they must, and that they must speak with one voice.
While in many respects Chechnya is a case apart, attacks
against independent media are a grim fact of life elsewhere in Russia. Novaya Gazeta
has lost four journalists since 2000, and numerous other independent writers, editors and bloggers have been beaten, threatened and killed. (See the report on Mikhail Beketov on this page.) RFE/RL has been subject to less deadly, but still successful efforts to undermine its broadcasts as Russian authorities have pressured local stations to drop RFE/RL programs, sharply reducing the number of affiliates that carry them to seven from almost 30 in 2004.