A special police regiment in Russia's North Caucasus region has urged President Vladimir Putin "to protect" them from "defamation" by the Moscow-based independent investigative newspaper Novaya Gazeta after it published a report about alleged extrajudicial killings and torture by law enforcement in the region.
The regiment's personnel issued a video statement on Instagram on March 17, in which its representatives called Novaya Gazeta, which was co-founded by former President Mikhail Gorbachev in 1993 and is one of the few Russian media outlets critical of the country's leadership, "a fake periodical," and its reports 'defamatory attacks."
The statement also said that the regiment's members were "ready to carry our any order of the Supreme Commander."
One officer says on the video that the regiment feels "compelled to have one of us take responsibility to stop the insults targeting" 16,000 law enforcement officers in Chechnya.
The statement came two days after Novaya Gazeta published an interview with a former police officer of the regiment, Suleiman Gezmakhmayev, who confirmed the torture and killing by police of at least 13 Chechen men in January 2017.
Earlier reports from Novaya Gazeta alleged that police in Chechnya illegally detained, tortured and killed 27 men.
After Novaya Gazeta's March 15 article, Chechen Ombudsman Nurdi Nukhazhiev and Regional Information and Press Minister Akhmed Dudayev publicly called the report "a lie."
On March 18, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the Chechen police regiment's statement addressed to Putin was wrong as such complaints must be adjudicated by the legal system.
"The president of the Russian Federation is not a judicial organ, cannot make judicial decisions, and cannot accept complaints against the newspaper's editors," Peskov said.
Rights groups and critics have long accused the Kremlin-backed authoritarian leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, and his paramilitary forces of serious rights abuses, including the widespread use of kidnapping, torture, and extrajudicial murders.