Novaya Gazeta on Threats of Retribution Against Journalists from Chechen Clergy over Articles on Persecution of LGBT

April 14, 2017
Adam Shakhidov, advisor to Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, at a meeting at the Central Mosque in Grozny April 3 calling for reprisals against Novaya Gazeta journalists. Screen grab from Grozny TV

Statement from Novaya Gazeta About Threats of Retribution Against Journalists from Chechen Clergy over Articles on Persecution of LGBT

Screen grab from Grozny TV of assembly held in the Central Mosque April 3 and led by Muslim religious leaders, and said to be attended by 15,000-20,000 people. 

Novaya Gazeta, an independent new site in Russia, was the first to break the story of the persecution and even murder of gays in Chechnya (see Russian original, Honor Killing: How the Ambitions of a Prominent LGBT Activist Unleashed a Terrible Ancient Custom in Chechnya), as they have broken other news of repression in the North Caucasus republic, including recent accounts of the point-blank execution of Chechen suspects

For their courageous reporting, this news outlet, that has already seen six of its journalists murdered over the years has suffered death threats, notably to journalist Yelena Milashina, who has reported from Chechnya for years until she was forced to leave the region due to death threats after covering the story of orders from Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov to raze the homes of relatives of suspected terrorists. 

Novaya Gazeta’s story about the crackdown on LGBT claimed that it appeared to have been triggered by the request for permits to hold gay parades in multiple cities in Russia including in the North Caucasus. (The LGBT activist responded that a permit was not sought for Grozny). Novaya Gazeta obtained reliable reports, which have been corroborated independently by Human Rights Watch, of the execution of at least three persons and the detention and torture of some 100 more, causing some to flee the republic. Chechen authorities have responded in contradictory fashion, first saying there were no gays in the republic, then claiming that if they did exist, their own relatives would kill them.

Yet ample testimony to human rights groups of persecution indicates that as in any country, there are LGBT in Chechnya and even if they maintain a very low profile, they run the risk if not of “honor killings” of police informants even among their own families turning them in for certain arrest and even death.

The following is a translation by Catherine A. Fitzpatrick of the statement from Novaya Gazeta about the threats against them, followed by relevant documents.

On April 1, Novaya Gazeta reported mass detentions and torture of residents of Chechnya suspected of non-traditional sexual orientation. We know the names of three people killed, and we also know that there are many more people killed. Extrajudicial reprisals, so called “honor killings,” are committed even by the victims’ relatives.

The reaction that ensued to the publications about the persecution of Chechen homosexuals causes the editors to have serious concerns about the safety not only of specific journalists but all employees of Novaya Gazeta without exception.

On April 3, three days after our first publication, an emergency assembly led by representatives of 24 Chechen virds [Sufi religious communities], Islamic theologians and public opinion leaders, took place in the central mosque of Grozny. According to official information, 15,000 people took part. Adam Shakhidov, advisor to Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov publicly accused the collective of Novaya Gazeta at that meeting of libel, and clearly designated “the enemies of our faith and our motherland.”

Sakhidov’s speech, and also those by other Chechen theologians were broadcast by local television and disseminated widely on the Internet, provoking a wave of intolerant statements on social networks.

A resolution was passed as a result of this rally. The second point in this resolution openly and directly calls for violence:
“By virtue of the fact that an insult has been dealt against the age-old pillars of Chechen society and the dignity of Chechen men, and also to our faith, we vow that retribution will be delivered to the true instigators, no matter whom they are, without any time limit.”

It is obvious to us: this resolution urges religious fanatics to take reprisals against journalists.

For Novaya Gazeta, it is entirely obvious that this current wave of repressions is not a unique phenomenon for today’s Chechnya. The level of violence in the republic in the last three years has grown drastically, and this is directly connected to the lack of a full-fledged investigation of the murder of Boris Nemtsov, whose contractors essentially got away with it. The impunity for exactly that crime engendered in them a total confidence in their own invulnerability.
Silence and inaction in such a situation makes accomplices of all those capable of at least doing something. It is for that reason that Novaya Gazeta is continuing to work in Chechnya. But we realize very well what a high price we may pay. The failure to investigate the murder of our colleagues — Anna Politkovskaya and Natalya Estemirovaya — is obvious evidence.
We maintain that the reaction to journalists’ work announced at the assembly in the central mosque, is unacceptable in a civilized society and must be evaluated from the perspective of Russian law.
We call on the Russian authorities to do everything possible to stop actions aimed at inciting hatred and enmity to journalists carrying out their professional duties.
On April 8, Dmitry Muratov, editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta, officially appealed to Russian Prosecutor General Yury Chaika with a demand to compel the Investigative Committee of Russia to rigorously implement Russian laws, notably to conduct a check regarding Articles 144-145 of the Russian Federation Code of Criminal Procedures regarding facts indicating the commission of serious crimes.
On April 10, a 10-day period had passed from the time Novaya Gazeta published the facts of mass persecution of residents of Chechnya based on their homosexual orientation. The law provides the Investigative Committee of Russia exactly that many days to react to the report of a crime. We have not received any reports of a reaction from the Investigative Committee of Russia to our publication. Therefore on April 11, Andrei Sabinin, a lawyer from the international human rights organization Agora, submitted a complaint to Basmanny Court in Moscow demanding a recognition of the inaction of Aleksandr Bastrykin, chairman of the Russian Federation Investigative Committee as unfounded and unlawful and to compel him to eliminate the violation tolerated.
Resolution fo the High Assembly of Islamic Theologians and Leaders of Public Opinion in Chechnya
1. The printing in the publication Novaya Gazeta is an absolute lie and slander, defaming the honor and dignity of Muslims, residents of Chechnya, citizens of the Russian Federation.
2. Given that an insult has been dealt to the age-old pillars of Chechen society and the dignity of Chechen men, and also to our faith, we vow that retribution will be delivered to the true instigators wherever they are, without a time limit.
3. In addition we, the High Assembly, call on residents of Chechnya and all decent people not to disseminate libelous and provocative information which is a terrible sin in Islam and other religions and also entails pain and suffering for many people.
4. We call on every sane person to battle the dissemination of such infamies and provocations by all possible (lawful) means.
5. We call on federal and regional media in the preparation of materials to use reliable sources and the opinion of competent specialists.
Let the Almighty give us all calm, peace and justice!
24 clergy of the Chechen Republic have placed their signatures on the resolution.
Appeal from Dmitry Muratov, Editor-in-Chief, Novaya Gazeta
To the Mufti of the Chechen Republic
Alakh-khadjhi Mezhiev
Respected Salakh-khadji!
The editors of Novaya Gazeta studied attentively the resolution of the High Assembly of clergy and leaders of public opinion of Chechnya which sharply condemned the publication of the newspaper regarding the violation of the rights of minorities on the territory of the republic.
I am compelled to state in reply that we did not offend and did not have the slightest intentions of offending the Chechen people. We profoundly and sincerely respect them. We were together in the tragic years of the war; we helped those who were injured to get out, brought humanitarian aid, and freed hostages. Hundreds of Chechen families remember with gratitude the humanitarian activity of our columnist Anna Stepanova Politkovskaya.
In our texts, it is impossible to detect any signs of offense of the Chechen people and its faith for the simple reasons that these signs are absent.
We defended the rights of specific people who were subject to persecution, in connection with an appeal to the editors. These people have not committed any crimes. The attitude toward them may differ — but only within the confines of the law. And the newspaper continues to follow violations of human rights in Chechnya as well as other regions of our country.
I believe that the resolution of the High Assembly was dictated by emotions. Especially that part that mentions “retribution”. I see here a direct call for reprisals. And the editors well remember and will never forget the contracted murders of Anna Politkovskaya and Natalya Estemirova.
There has already been enough violence in our country.
Therefore, we are always prepared for dialogue with the representatives of Chechen society and clergy.
Dmitry Muratov
Novaya Gazeta
Update November 14. Reaction from Chechen Mufi.
Salakh-hadji Mezhiev, the mufti of the Chechen Republic, declared that Novaya Gazeta’s journalists can expect “retribution from Allah,” but they will response according to the letter of the law. “They will reply according to the letter of the law. Regarding retribution, the retribution of the Almighty Allah will inevitably be delivered to them,” said Mezhiev.
The mufti of Chechnya believes the article about the presecution of gays in Chechnya is “unfounded libel”. According to him, the publications offended not only the feelings of a few people but the entire Chechen people, “they offended the clergy, they offended the most sacred.”
Kheda Saratova, the human rights ombudsperson of Chechnya said that the LGBT arrested were suspected of involvement in terrorism.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

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