Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) has called on Russian authorities to secure the safety of journalists and their relatives in the North Caucasus region of Chechnya after the Kremlin-installed leader of the area openly threatened the broadcaster's North Caucasus Service chief, Aslan Doukaev.
Ramzan Kadyrov threatened Doukaev while discussing an RFE/RL article challenging the Chechen authorities' policies toward farmers during the coronavirus pandemic.
In a video posted on YouTube on April 1, Kadyrov uses vulgar words during a discussion with several members of his government, cursing the author of the article and threatening to punish him "to the full extent."
Kadyrov also addresses Doukaev in the video, saying he will make him "crawl on your knees begging our people for forgiveness!"
"Direct threats by regional leaders against journalists, most recently RFE/RL's Aslan Doukaev, are a dangerous trend at a moment when our audiences need access to objective news and information more than ever, " RFE/RL President Jamie Fly said in a statement on April 21.
"For decades, RFE/RL has provided Chechens and others across the North Caucasus with reliable reporting despite the risks for journalists in the region.... Russian authorities must uphold their obligations to ensure the safety and security of journalists and their families, including those like Aslan providing this important service for the Chechen people," he added.
Rights groups say 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 allege Kadyrov is ultimately responsible for the violence and intimidation of political opponents by Chechen authorities, including kidnappings, forced disappearances, torture, and extrajudicial killings.
Kremlin critics say President Vladimir Putin has turned a blind eye to the alleged abuses and violations of the Russian Constitution by Kadyrov because he relies on the former rebel commander to control separatist sentiment and violence in Chechnya, the site of two devastating post-Soviet wars and an Islamist insurgency that spread to other mostly Muslim regions in the North Caucasus.
Last week, Russian independent newspaper Novaya gazeta took down an article about measures introduced to tackle the coronavirus in Chechnya following a request by Russia's media regulator, Roskomnadzor.
The move came after Kadyrov had slammed the article as "absurd" and threatened to harm the author, Yelena Milashina, who is widely known for her investigative reports about the dire human rights situation in Chechnya.
Human Rights Watch said on April 21 that Russian authorities should take the threat "seriously" and "ensure" Milashina's safety.
"The Kremlin's dismissive reaction to this serious threat against Novaya gazeta is simply unacceptable and dangerous," said Tanya Lokshina, associate Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
"Kadyrov asked for a signal and this is like a stark green light to Chechen officials to act on their threats," she added.
Milashina has been a target of threats by Chechen authorities since exposing their anti-gay "purge" in spring 2017.
In February 2020, a group of attackers beat Milashina and human rights lawyer Marina Dubrovina in Grozny, the regional capital.
RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service is one of the few independent media outlets reporting in Russia’s predominantly Muslim Chechnya and other regions of the North Caucasus.