Human Rights Group Memorial Hit by Arson Attack In North Caucasus

Memorial

On the night of 17 January, surveillance cameras captured two masked men torching Memorial’s Nazran office. Photo: HRC Memorial.

Two unidentified men in masks have broken into and torched the Nazran office of Russian human rights organisation Memorial. The attack comes only a week after the arrest of Oyub Titiev, leader of the prominent human rights group’s Chechnya office. Civil Rights Defenders condemns in the strongest terms the recent attacks and demands Russia put all efforts necessary into ensuring the security and safety of human rights defenders in the region.

On the night of 17 January, surveillance cameras captured two masked men carrying a canister breaking into the office, spraying petrol, and setting fire to the office. Three out of six rooms were completely burnt down and the fire damaged and destroyed both important documents and equipment.

The attack resembles previous attacks on human rights defenders and organisations in North Caucasus. In December 2014, unknown people in masks set fire to human rights group Committee Against Torture’s (CAT) Grozny office, and, in 2016, the same organisation was attacked near the border of Ingushetia and Chechnya when travelling together with Russian and international journalists. Their bus was stopped and set on fire, and both a journalist and CAT staff were beaten up. The perpetrators of those attacks have not been established nor punished.

Human Rights Centre Memorial is one of Russia’s oldest and leading human rights groups. The organisation has done extensive reporting on human rights violations in the volatile region of North Caucasus for many years.

This recent attack on their work comes only a week after the arrest and criminal prosecution on bogus charges of drug possession of Oyub Titiev, the director Memorial’s office in Grozny. While the work of the Nazran office only concerns the Republic of Ingushetia and does not include the Republic of Chechnya, Oleg Orlov, head of Memorial’s Hot Spot programme, is convinced that the aim of the attack is to destroy HRC Memorial’s work in Chechnya.

Recently, Oleg Orlov and other Memorial staff travelled to Chechnya together with Oyub Titiev’s lawyer Piotr Zaikin and journalists from Novaya Gazeta. The group, who went to support their colleague, reported about immense surveillance and harassment. During the two days of their stay in the region, the human rights defenders and the lawyer were detained five times for checks about their potential connection to illegal armed forces.

Civil Rights Defenders condemns in the strongest terms the recent attacks and harassment, and demands Russia put all efforts necessary into ensuring the security and safety of human rights defenders in the region.

“The continued harassment of Memorial and other human rights organisations that work on Chechnya is unacceptable and in violation of Memorial’s constitutional right to freedom of association. The Russian authorities must conduct a prompt investigation into the arson attack and take measures to guarantee the safety and security of Memorial’s staff. Sweden and other EU member states need to continue asking Russian leaders about their treatment of human rights defenders,” said Joanna Kurosz, Eurasia Programme Director at Civil Rights Defenders.

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