Elena Milashina, a journalist for the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, published two stories about gay men being rounded up, detained, tortured, and sometimes killed in Chechnya that made international headlines. Now, Milashina says she’s fleeing Russia in fear of her safety.
Milashina spoke to the Washington Post on Friday from an undisclosed location outside of Moscow, where she lived and worked until recently. During the interview she said:
Now I think I will leave the country for a while, too. It doesn’t matter that Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov announced clearly that journalists are under the Kremlin’s protection and that no one can kill them for their professional duty. The threat still exists.
So, I will just live for a while in another country. Still working on Chechnya—I can come from this country to the region. I have a lot of sources, and I have a lot of information. I will continue my work.
Milashina said and her colleagues are on alert because of a jihad threatened against the staff of Novaya Gazeta during a meeting of 15,000 people at a Chechen mosque. She explained:
Not just me, but all the people working at the newspaper are now in danger, because this was a clear jihad message. We will persecute you for tarnishing the honor of the Chechen nation, this nasty thing that you said. There are gays among Chechen people? We will persecute you until the last person at Novaya Gazeta dies. It’s unbelievable. It reminds us of the situation with Charlie Hebdo.
According to Milashina, though Novaya Gazeta has written about Chechnya for years, none of its stories have elicited such a strong response. Journalist Anna Politkovskaya covered Chechnya for the paper for years before she was murdered in 2006.
Milashina said around 100 people have escaped Chechnya because of the witch hunt, though how many remain is uncertain. To the Post, she also criticized Russia’s apparent apathy regarding the treatment of gay men in Chechnya:
The Russian government should be pushed more. They haven’t done anything. They haven’t started the investigation; instead they say they are waiting for the names of victims. But they know very well that people in Chechnya are scared to death, and they won’t tell their names unless the government offers them protection. The international pressure needs to be really hard on the federal government to start the investigation. We know facts but we can’t talk for them. If the Russian government will offer protection, people will talk.