The Grozny apartment that served as the office of the local monitoring group branch of the Committee to Prevent Torture (KPP) was destroyed by a fire late on December 13.
The following day, Grozny police detained two KPP lawyers, Sergei Babinets and Dmitry Dmitriyev, and confiscated from them their mobile phones, two lap-tops, and three cameras, one of which was the property of Al-Jazeera journalists who were visiting Grozny.
Just days earlier, KPP head Igor Kalyapin had antagonized Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov by formally asking Russian Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika and Investigative Committee head Aleksandr Bastrykin to rule on whether Kadyrov had exceeded his authority by issuing orders in the wake of the December 4 insurgent attack on Grozny that the families of known insurgents be deported from Chechnya and their homes burned to the ground.
At least eight dwellings in Gudermes, Yandy, Engelyurt, Alpatovo, and Katyr-Yurt belonging to the families of suspected insurgents were torched last week.
The blaze at the KPP's Grozny office was just one move in a series of reprisals against the organization and Kalyapin personally. First, Kadyrov claimed that evidence has surfaced that "a man named Kalyapin" was instrumental in channelling funds from Western intelligence services to Akhmat Umarov, the brother of former Caucasus Emirate head Doku Umarov, to finance the attack by insurgents on Grozny. Kadyrov demanded a probe to determine whether that Kalyapin and the Kalyapin "who came to the defense of bandits and their relatives" are one and the same person.
Then on December 11, Kalyapin was pelted with eggs while speaking at a press conference in Moscow about the Chechen leadership’s policy of holding the families of suspected insurgents collectively responsible for their purported crimes.
WATCH: Kadyrov Supporters Throw Eggs At Rights Activists
Two days later, some 50,000 people attended a mass demonstration in Grozny to protest "terrorism" and its perceived supporters; some participants carried placards inscribed (in English) "Kalyapin Go Home" and (in Russian) "Ramzan Kadyrov, protect us against the Kalyapins."
Meanwhile, KPP members told journalists from Al-Jazeera during a press conference in Grozny on December 13 their car was being followed and they were afraid to return to the apartment that served as their base.
The string of reprisals constitutes deliberate defiance of Mikheil Fedotov, chairman of the Russian president’s Council on Human Rights, who is quoted as having warned the Chechen leadership that "if something happens to the human rights activists, it will be [an act of] the utmost stupidity."
In the wake of the Grozny protest demonstration, but before the apartment fire, KPP lawyer Andrei Ryzhov affirmed that the organization will continue its work in Chechnya. "There is no point in trying to scare us.... We shall remain in Chechnya...and provide support to all those who ask us," Ryzhov wrote on his Facebook page.
"Novaya gazeta" journalist Yelena Milashina too requested clarification from Russia’s Investigative Committee whether Kadyrov's orders to exile insurgents' families and torch their homes , and threats by a man believed to be Chechen First Deputy Interior Minister Apti Alautdinov to "do anything you like, incriminate, arrest, kill anyone" suspected of belonging to the insurgency, violate the law. She received a response saying the evidence she adduced (which included Kadyrov's Instagram post and YouTube footage of Alautdinov) contained no evidence of any criminal offense, and therefore the Investigative Committee will take no action.
-- Liz Fuller