‘Chechen journalists, international journalists – Ramzan Kadyrov has silenced us all’, anonymous, 10 Oct. 2016

Chechen journalists, international journalists – Ramzan Kadyrov has silenced us all’, anonymous, 10 Oct. 2016

“I changed my mind about helping foreign journalists report inside Chechnya when I witnessed a reporter’s abduction in the centre of the capital, Grozny.

It was the beginning of 2016 and a group of journalists with cameras, obviously not local, were going into a cafe just as I was leaving it. Suddenly, several men in civilian clothing began to attack them.

One woman was shouting that she was a journalist from Moscow. She was screaming her name but not a single person, including me, dared to approach the men, their guns visible underneath their black clothes.

The journalists were arrested, thrown into an unmarked car and driven away.

I realised then that even helping outsiders tell the story of what is going on inside Chechnya has serious consequences. Foreign reporters will do their job and leave. But if they write a story that is critical of the young president, Ramzan Kadyrov, or his government, the first thing the police will do is track down the locals who helped them.

As a result, the purpose of journalism has completely changed. I became a journalist three years ago, at a time when students at the Chechen State University were being taught that they must become “soldiers on the ideological front”.

We entered a world where the handful of media outlets allowed to operate produce nearly identical content, churning out “news” on the opening of a school or a milk factory, or the president holding a football match, or yet another VIP delegation from Moscow or some Arab country visiting the capital.

Akmad Kadyrov mosque in Grozny.
 Akmad Kadyrov mosque in Grozny, named after the current leader’s father. Photograph: Tass/Barcroft Images

News editors now do not even look at material faintly critical of any government organisation. Simply suggesting a story on everyday problems encountered by people in Chechnya could attract suspicion from “true patriots”. The police could start monitoring your telephone calls and your Facebook, or you could be added to a blacklist. People who express an opinion different to that of the authorities are routinely subjected to public humiliation.

On Instagram, in articles for state newspapers including Groznyi-Inform, and in an interview with the state broadcaster, Grozny TV, Kadyrov and his staff have made intimidating statements about critical journalists, declaring them “traitors” and “enemies of the people” helping the west “wreak chaos in Russia”.

As a result, local media works according to one principle: “Do not to make Kadyrov angry.”

In this climate of fear and suspicion, the detention and beating of journalists no longer surprises locals. At the beginning of this year, a bus carrying a group of reporters and activists was attacked and burnt. Those responsible are yet to be found.

Two months later, a journalist for Kavkazsky Uzel (Caucasian Knot) was ambushed on his way from his village to Chechnya. Zhalaudi Geriev, 23, was dragged out of a shuttle bus and taken to a forest. The assailants pulled a plastic bag over his head and tortured him. They forced him to sign a confession that he had been carrying drugs, and he was sentenced to more than three years in prison.

Geriev’s case is little mentioned in Grozny. The sentence was a warning to all doubters and dissenters, and it’s effective: today, I do not know a single journalist here who would agree to work on a story that was anything other than positive about life in post-war Chechnya.

Reporters are given an extra incentive to comply: during the annual TV industry party, Kadyrov gives out money, apartments, cars and other presents to dozens of journalists. For people whose salaries total between 10,000 and 25,000 roubles (£125 to £315), this is a significant gesture, and writers try to get noticed and impress the leadership by writing the best possible story about government policies.

It’s a simple system. Journalists, who have no hope of escaping the republic and fear being branded “America’s henchman”, know their job: to write exactly what Kadyrov wants.”

(in https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/10/chechnya-no-longer-help-foreign-journalists-ramzan-kadyrov)

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