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Well-Known Chechen Blogger, Living In Hiding, Says He Was Attacked While Sleeping


Tumso Abdurakhmanov holds a letter from Interpol during an interview with AP somewhere in Poland in November 2018.

A human rights group says a well-known Chechen blogger has been assaulted in his apartment in a European country where he lives in hiding, the latest attack in Europe on critics of the leadership in Russia's North Caucasus region.

Tumso Abdurakhmanov was resting in a hospital on February 27 following the attack, according to the Swedish-based Vayfond Charity and Human Rights Association -- a nongovernmental organization that says it aims to protect the rights of Chechens and to seek justice for Chechens and other ethnic groups in Russia's North Caucasus region who are persecuted for "religious and political reasons."

According to Vayfond, the assailant broke into Abdurakhmanov's apartment the afternoon of February 26 while he was sleeping and assaulted him with a hammer. Abdurakhmanov eventually managed to overpower the attacker and called the police.

Abdurakhmanov, who had to flee Russia's North Caucasus region of Chechnya several years ago fearing for his safety after becoming known for his criticism of the Kremlin-backed authorities in his native region, posted a video on YouTube where the attacker admits he is from Moscow and says that he was asked by a person named Abdurakhman in the Chechen capital, Grozny, "to scare" Abdurakhmanov.

"Who sent you? Where have you come from?" Abdurakhmanov asks in the video, which was taken down by YouTube several hours after it was posted.

Abdurakhmanov then shows a hammer that he says was used by the man in the attack.

As the injured man lay on the ground, he says in the grainy video that he came from Moscow and that "they have my mother."

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 extrajudicial killings.

Since fleeing Chechnya in 2015, the 32-year-old Abdurakhmanov has been unsuccessful in his attempts to be granted asylum in Europe.

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.

Still, Abdurakhmanov has continued to criticize the Kadyrov regime, focusing on human rights violations and corruption in Chechnya, a predominantly Muslim region in Russia's North Caucasus. His YouTube channel has more than 140,000 subscribers.

Vayfond did not say where Abdurakhmanov was currently living, or where the attack occurred.

The Moscow-based Memorial Human Rights Center noted in a statement on February 27 that critics of Kadyrov were increasingly coming under attack.

"Numerous killings and attempted killings in Moscow, Russia's other regions, Turkey, Ukraine, and in the countries of Western and Central Europe, have been conducted by killers sent from Chechnya...Ramzan Kadyrov, under the Kremlin's passive eye, has publicly called on cracking down on critics of the Chechen authorities 'by killing, placing behind bars, and doing anything you want,'" the statement said.

According to Memorial, the chairman of the Chechen parliament and Kadyrov's close associate, Magomed Daudov, in March 2019 declared a blood feud with Abdurakhmanov, after which Chechen authorities allegedly tried to find killers among the Chechen diaspora in Europe to carry out attacks against critics of the regime.

"Now an attempt to kill was carried out, but fortunately it failed. We hope that the authorities of the country where it took place will be capable of investigating this crime and establishing who is behind it, although it is obvious anyway," the statement says.

Earlier in February, Abdurakhmanov was one of the sources giving detailed information about the killing of another exiled blogger from Chechnya, Imran Aliyev, in France.

In August last year, Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, a Georgian citizen of Chechen origin, was shot dead in broad daylight in central Berlin. Khangoshvili had fought in the second Chechen war against Russian forces in the early 2000s.

The investigative journalism group Bellingcat said earlier this month that a probe into Khangoshvili's killing showed that the attack was planned and organized by Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB).

The case has sparked a political dispute between Berlin and Moscow -- including tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats -- after Germany noted evidence suggested either the Russian government or authorities in Chechnya likely ordered the killing. Moscow denies the allegations.

A suspect who'd traveled to Germany on a Russian passport issued in the name of Vadim Sokolov was detained by police in Berlin shortly after the killing.

He is now on trial in a German court on charges of murder and weapons violations. In December, Bellingcat identified him as Vadim Krasikov -- a man also suspected in the 2013 killing in Moscow of a Russian businessman.