Media freedom watchdogs say they are alarmed over the reported assault of a well-known Chechen blogger in an unidentified European country where he lives in hiding.
An assailant broke into Tumso Abdurakhmanov’s apartment on February 26 while he was asleep and beat him with a hammer, according to the Sweden-based human rights group Vayfond.
Abdurakhmanov, who eventually managed to overpower the attacker, was said to be hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries.
Both Vayfond and the blogger’s brother called the assault an assassination attempt -- the latest attack in Europe on critics of the leadership in Russia's North Caucasus region.
“Alarmed by the reported attempt to assassinate” Abdurakhmanov, the representative on freedom of the media for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Harlem Desir, tweeted on February 27, noting that the attack came after last month’s suspected murder of another Chechen blogger in France.
The 32-year-old Abdurakhmanov has lived in self-imposed exile since fleeing Chechnya in 2015 amid fears for his safety after becoming known for his criticism of the Kremlin-backed authorities in his native region. He has twice filed for asylum in Poland and has been turned down once already, despite strong support from human rights activists such as Amnesty International, which has warned he is “at a very real risk of torture and other inhuman or degrading treatment” if returned to Russia.
Gulnoza Said, Europe and Central Asia program coordinator at the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), said the attack against Abdurakhmanov “is alarming and must be thoroughly investigated.”
“Bringing the perpetrators of this attack to justice is crucial for ensuring the safety of Chechen dissidents living in Europe,” she said.
The location of the attack has not been disclosed, but Abdurakhmanov posted a video on WhatsApp in which, after overpowering the purported attacker he interrogates him.
The alleged assailant says he is from Moscow and that he had been sent by someone named "Abdurakhman from Grozny," the Chechen capital, in order "to frighten" the blogger.
“They have my mother,” he adds.
Meanwhile, sources in Chechnya told RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service that on February 26 local police in the villages of Stanitsa Naurskaya and Stanitsa Shelkovskaya detained at least nine young men who had "liked" online videos posted by Abdurakhmanov.
Relatives of the allegedly detained men refused to comment. Naursky district police officials denied that they detained anyone on that day, while a spokeswoman for the Shelkovsky district police hung up the phone after an RFE/RL correspondent introduced himself.
Rights groups say Kremlin-backed Ramzan Kadyrov, who has ruled the volatile region since 2007, uses repressive measures and has created a climate of impunity for security forces in the region. They claim Kadyrov is ultimately responsible for the violence and intimidation of political opponents by Chechen authorities, including kidnappings, forced disappearances, torture, and extra-judicial killings.
Chechen authorities have threatened, intimidated, and arrested journalists for their work, according to the CPJ.
In late January, the body of Imran Aliyev, another Chechen blogger known for his criticism of Kadyrov, was found in a hotel room in the northern French city of Lille, with stab wounds, according to French media.
The CPJ said it has yet to be able to determine whether Aliyev's death was tied to his reporting.