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Newspaper Staff that Investigated Chechnya’s Vicious Anti-Gay Crackdown Threatened by Russian Republic’s Political Elite, Targeted With Cyber Attack

News Brief

A cyber attack shut down the website of Russia’s Novaya Gazeta shortly after the independent newspaper announced today that specific journalists and the staff as a whole have been directly threatened by members of Chechnya’s political elite.

Novaya Gazeta reported on April 1 that gay men have been arrested and detained en mass, and in some instances killed, by authorities in the southern Russian Republic of Chechnya. The report spread across international media as more victims stepped forward with information about detention centers where dozens of men were detained and tortured.

Shortly after a statement outlining the threats made against Novaya’s staff was posted online, the newspaper’s website went offline for over an hour. Reporters at the newspaper posted on social media that the website was being targeted by a DDoS attack.

The newspaper’s editors wrote that three days after Novaya published their first report about the persecution of gay men in Chechnya, an emergency meeting of Chechen theologians and public figures was held in the central mosque in the Chechen capital, Grozny.

Novaya said in the statement that 15,000 people attended the event, including Adam Shakhidov, an adviser to Chechnya’s strongman ruler, Ramzan Kadyrov. Shakhidov is alleged to have publicly accused the Novaya Gazeta staff of slander and described them as “the enemies of our faith and our homeland.”

Leaders at the meeting in Grozny adopted a resolution which read: “In light of this insult to the centuries-old foundations of Chechen society...we promise that retribution will be visited upon the true instigators, wherever and by whomever they are,” according to Novaya’s statement.

Novaya’s editors wrote in their response to the threats from Grozny that “this resolution pushes religious fanatics towards the massacre of journalists. It is evident for Novaya Gazeta that the current wave of repression is not a unique phenomenon in today’s Chechnya.”

The statement continued:

“Silence and inaction in such situations makes everyone, who has the possibility to do something, an accomplice. That is why Novaya Gazeta continues to work in Chechnya. However, we understand that it can come at a high price. The unresolved murders of our colleagues, Anna Politkovskaya and Natalia Estemirova, are testament to this.”

Since the newspaper was founded in 1993, five Novaya Gazeta journalists have been murdered or killed while reporting in conflict zones. Anna Politkovskaya, who was known for her criticism of the Chechen War and Vladimir Putin, was shot dead in her apartment building October 7, 2006, famously also Putin’s birthday.

Natalia Estemirova was a human rights activist who worked alongside Politkovskaya. Estemirova was abducted and killed in Chechnya in 2009.