A Swedish reporter who was among a group of journalists and activists attacked by masked assailants near Chechnya said Thursday that the assailants accused them of being terrorists who were “killing our people.”
Maria Persson Lofgren, a Norwegian reporter and four Russian journalists were in a minibus with two activists from Russia’s Committee to Prevent Torture on Wednesday evening when men in several cars forced them off the road, ordered the bus occupants and driver out, beat them and set the vehicle afire.
Lofgren, who works for Swedish Radio, told the broadcaster that she was beaten, and needed 10 stitches in her thigh after she was thrown onto an iron beam by the roadside. She was also heavily bruised on her arms and legs.
The attack took place in Ingushetia, near the border with Chechnya. The group was heading for the Chechen capital, Grozny.
Chechnya is under the control of strongman president Ramzan Kadyrov, who is intolerant of dissent and heads a private security force that critics accuse of brutality.
The Committee to Protect Journalists on Thursday blamed Russian authorities’ inattention to anti-media hostility in Chechnya as enabling the attack.
Committee to Prevent Torture member Oleg Khabibrakhmanov said there have been two other attacks on their organization recently.
“The attack follows a burst of menacing comments on social media and in the press … by government officials in Chechnya,” a CPJ statement said. The assault “was enabled by the government’s inaction in the face of overt hostility to the press.”
“I thought it was some kind of accident, but then a number of young men with masks jumped out with sticks, with which they broke the windows and started beating the Chechen driver of the bus,” Lofgren said.
They yelled ‘You aren’t human rights activists. You are terrorists. You are killing our people,” she said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Thursday that the attack “is absolutely outrageous, absolute hooliganism … and this is totally unacceptable.”