Journalists, Rights Campaigners Under Threat From Kremlin

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 5 Issue: 10

The Russian journalist Yelena Tregubova, target of an unsuccessful assassination attempt after she wrote a candid book about life inside Putin’s Kremlin, has fled to a foreign country. She is so fearful of a second attempt, according to an article in the March 7 Washington Post, that she prefers not even to identify that country. Tregubova’s book, “Tales of a Kremlin Digger,” makes it clear that Putin’s team harbored a special hatred of journalists who contradicted the official line about Chechnya. When she persistently raised the issue of the Federal Security Service’s (FSB) kidnapping four years ago of Andrei Babitsky of Radio Liberty, deputy chief of the Kremlin staff Vladislav Surkov angrily denounced Babitsky as “an enemy of the Russian state.”

From Natalya Gervorkian, who was working at the time on an authorized biography of Putin, Tregubova received what she calls “precise confirmation that Putin himself was directly involved in the whole affair of the kidnapping.” Tregubova also recalls that “during the entire period when Babitsky was being held captive, not one of my colleagues in the press had the slightest doubt: Unless we kept yelling at the authorities every day, every hour with all our might to demand his release, they would simply kill him in secret.”

Meanwhile, the increasingly confident Putin administration has also continued to tighten its grip on non-journalists critical of Moscow’s policies in Chechnya, and foreigners are not exempt. According to an article posted on the website on March 6, the Russian Foreign Ministry has denied the well known human rights advocate Lord Frank Judd of the United Kingdom a visa to visit Moscow. Lord Judd, former rapporteur on Chechnya for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, was to have visited Moscow to receive a prize from a coalition of Russian organizations working for a negotiated settlement in the republic.

In addition, a Moscow court has fined Russian human rights activist Mikhail Koukobaka 700 rubles–more than two days’ pay for the average Muscovite–for taking part in a peaceful demonstration against the Putin administration’s policies in Chechnya. According to a March 3 report by the Prima news agency, similar cases have been brought against other organizers of the February 23 demonstration (see Chechnya Weekly, February 25), including Lev Ponomarev, who heads the movement For Human Rights.