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Chechen Office Of Rights Group's Set Alight

Igor Kalyapin says his NGO has been targeted.
Igor Kalyapin says his NGO has been targeted.

The office of a prominent rights group in Chechnya was set on fire after some of its activists criticized Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov for his statements promoting collective punishment.

Igor Kalyapin, the head of the Committee to Prevent Torture (KPP), said on Facebook that the organizations' office in the Chechen capital, Grozny, was set on fire late on December 13.

Kalyapin said no one was hurt in the attack.

He said two men had earlier in the evening tried to break into the office of the Joint Mobile Group -- the name of the KPP's branch in Chechnya -- and that two activists from the group had been followed by armed men.

Those activists told Al-Jazeera they are considering leaving Chechnya due to threats to their security.

The KPP/Joint Mobile Group is one of the last human rights groups still active in Chechnya, having been established in the south Caucasian state after the 2009 killing of rights defender Natalia Estemirova.

KPP lawyer Andrey Ryzhov said on Facebook that the NGO will continue to work in Chechnya despite the threats to its employees and the attack on its office, saying: "there is no point in trying to scare us."

Kalyapin sharply criticized Kadyrov on December 9 for saying that the families of men involved in a deadly attack on Grozny be expelled from Chechnya and that their homes be destroyed.

Kalyapin also formally inquired with Russian Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika and Investigative Committee head Aleksandr Bastrykin whether the Chechen leader's comments had violated Russian law.

The Russian rights group Memorial said at least eight homes in the Chechen towns of Gudermes, Yandy, Engelyurt, Alpatovo, and Katyr-Yurt belong to the relatives of and a few of the men involved in the Grozny attack have been destroyed by fire since Kadyrov's made his comments.

On December 10, Kadyrov claimed that a man named "Kalyapin" had been given money by Western intelligence services that he then transferred to Akhmat Umarov -- the brother of the late, self-declared leader of the the Caucasus Emirate, Doku Umarov -- who Kadyrov claims financed the armed group that attacked Grozny one week earlier.

Kadyrov demanded that a probe be carried out to determine if Igor Kalyapin is the same person who had funneled the money to the armed attackers.

Kalyapin was also the target of an egg attack by two men on December 11 in Moscow during a discussion he was leading on Kadyrov and his comments.

A rally attended by tens of thousands of Chechens was held in Grozny on December 13 to protest terrorism.

Several signs in the crowd -- written in English -- also read "Kalyapin Go Home" and asked for Kadyrov to "protect us against the Kalyapins."

Some protesters spoke out against the Joint Mobilie Group and said it was supporting the rebel gunmen.

Kadyrov himself said on his Instagram site last week that Kalyapin was defending "bandits."

During the December 4 attack in Grozny, 14 police and 11 gunmen were killed in the deadliest insurgent incident in the Chechen capital in many years.

Mikhail Fedotov, the chairman of Russian President Vladimir Putin's Council on Human Rights, was quoted in the Russian daily "Novoya gazeta" as saying that "If something happens to the human rights activists it will be [an act of] the utmost stupidity."

Based on reporting by AFP and TASS