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Human Rights Defenders Must Be Defended


The burned out 'Press House' is seen in central Grozny, Russia. (Dec. 4, 2014.)

The United States is "extremely concerned by reports of arson at the Grozny offices of the Joint Mobile Group and the threats directed against human rights defenders, including Igor Kalyapin,” said State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki.

When activists at the Joint Mobile Group human rights group in Chechnya’s capital of Grozny saw a number of men attempting to break into their offices on December 13th, they evacuated the premises. Soon after, the offices were on fire. Later, it was discovered that all equipment had been smashed. On the following day, Chechen police entered a Joint Mobile Group-owned apartment without a warrant, ransacked the premises and confiscated electronic equipment. They body-searched two lawyers who were on the premises at the time and detained them without charges for several hours.

Joint Mobile Group is part of a program developed by the Russian non-governmental organization Committee Against Torture. Its purpose is to investigate human rights abuses under Russian-backed Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. Some 50 lawyers rotate in short shifts throughout this region of Russia, where too many human rights activists, and journalists investigating human rights abuses, have disappeared or been killed. Both Committee Against Torture and Joint Mobile Group are headed by human rights activist and member of the Kremlin's human rights council, Igor Kalyapin.

This most recent attack against human rights advocates has its beginnings in a December 4th attack by insurgents against law enforcement officials in Grozny. Fourteen law enforcement officers and all insurgents were killed that day. In response, Ramzan Kadyrov announced that the families of the militants would be exiled and their homes destroyed. After several houses in surrounding villages burned down, Igor Kalyapin appealed to Russia's prosecutor general to investigate whether Kadyrov's orders for collective punishment of the insurgents’ families might constitute a criminal offense under Article 286 of the Russian Criminal Code.

Since then, Mr. Kalyapin has suffered severe harassment. He was pelted with eggs and verbally abused during a press conference, and received numerous threatening phone calls and text messages.

“[The United States is] extremely concerned by reports of arson at the Grozny offices of the Joint Mobile Group and the threats directed against human rights defenders, including Igor Kalyapin,” said State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki.

“We urge the authorities to investigate this incident and the threats against these individuals and ensure the safety of all human rights defenders in Chechnya and across Russia.”

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