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Outspoken Russian journalist Elena Milashina was attacked in Chechnya

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

A prominent Russian journalist who has been vocal about human rights abuses in Chechnya was attacked on Tuesday. Elena Milashina was in Chechnya to attend the hearing of the mother of two Chechen dissidents. Her publication said the medical examination showed that she sustained a brain injury and fractures. The U.S. State Department said it was appalled by the beating. And we turn now to a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Olga Sadovskaya. She's the vice chair of the Crew Against Torture. Thank you so much for being with us.

OLGA SADOVSKAYA: Hello.

SIMON: Elena Milashina was traveling with a lawyer to the hearing of a human rights activist. What do we know about what happened?

SADOVSKAYA: They were in the same plane to Grozny, and they took one car because, well, they coincided in one plane. And about one half kilometer from the airport, they were stopped by three cars. They were attacked by a group of 12 people wearing masks. And they were having guns. They were having knives. They were severely beaten. Elena has - at the moment, she has brain concussion. She was constantly losing consciousness. Elena's back is absolutely black.

SIMON: You and Elena Milashina were awarded the Sakharov Prize in 2017. Why would she be a target of anything?

SADOVSKAYA: Since for the last decade or even longer, she's unveiling human rights crimes that are committed by the local authorities in the region. She was covering in media gay purge that started in 2019. She was covering how Chechen authorities were kidnapping and killing people because they think differently, because they look differently, because they try to speak out. And it was not the first attack against her. Unfortunately, she was beaten a couple of years ago before, but it wasn't that severe a story. But this time it really - the people who have beaten them have crossed all red lines.

SIMON: Has there been any reaction that you have seen or heard from the Russian government?

SADOVSKAYA: Yes, there was very untypical reaction, actually, because the spokesperson of the president expressed his concern and said that there should be proper investigation. The head of the investigative committee immediately opened a criminal case and the members of the federal parliament actually have spoken out and said that it's incredible crime, and it should be investigated. This kind of people have never spoken like this before on the similar crimes against journalists or human rights defenders.

SIMON: Yeah. This question is going to sound very naive, Ms. Sadovskaya, but I have to ask. How dangerous is it to be a journalist in Russia today?

SADOVSKAYA: If you're a journalist that covers human rights violation or politics or elections or special military operation, as they call it, in Russia, you are at a great risk. And I would say that 90% of the independent journalists who covered these kind of topics have already left Russia in order to remain able to cover these kind of violations.

SIMON: What should the Russian government do to make it easier for journalists to operate, or is that the point, to not make it easy?

SADOVSKAYA: Russian government is not willing that the truth is coming out. Otherwise it will be, you know, supporting independent journalism. But Russian government is trying to create a closed jar of the country that no information about human rights violations or what is happening in the country is coming out. So they're not going to do anything because it's not in their interest.

SIMON: How safe is it for you to speak with us?

SADOVSKAYA: Any cooperation with the international partners, with foreign partners, could be dangerous. But if you try to do human rights work, you need to be ready for some kind of risk.

SIMON: Olga Sadovskaya is the vice chair of the Crew Against Torture. Thanks so much for being with us.

SADOVSKAYA: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Corrected: July 7, 2023 at 11:00 PM CDT
A previous headline misstated the name of the Russian journalist as Olga Sadovskaya.
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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