The Chechen Republic’s Supreme Court last week cleared the way for a libel suit brought by the Chechen Interior Ministry against the Moscow-based human rights organization Civic Assistance, the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, and Ramazan Dzhalaldinov, a resident of the southern village of Kenkhi.
In April 2016, Dzhalaldinov incurred the anger of Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov by addressing an open letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin accusing Kenkhi authorities of corruption.
The Chechen Interior Ministry’s suit, which according to Novaya Gazeta lawyer Pyotr Zankin contains gross legal errors, was prompted by public statements by Novaya Gazeta and Civic Assistance founder and head Svetlana Gannushkina about alleged reprisals subsequently inflicted on Dzhalaldinov and his family, possibly by Chechen law enforcement agencies, between May and early November 2016. Specifically, the ministry accused the three defendants of damaging its professional reputation through statements they made in November 2016.
The Chechen authorities appear to have orchestrated a purportedly spontaneous demonstration in front of the Supreme Court building last week by some 100 people who made sarcastic and derogatory comments about human rights activists and journalists who, they alleged, routinely distort the situation in Chechnya, the news portal Caucasian Knot reported on November 10. Some of the participants subsequently told RFE/RL’s North Caucasus Service they were paid 1,000 rubles ($16.90) for attending the protest.
Kadyrov had responded to Dzhalaldinov’s appeal to Putin by branding him a liar, whereupon Dzhalaldinov lodged a formal complaint with Russian Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika requesting that he take legal action against Kadyrov for having publicly insulted him.
On May 6, 2016, Kadyrov traveled to Kenkhi, where he assured the predominantly Avar population that local officials accused of pocketing the compensation due to residents for damage inflicted on their property during the wars of 1994-96 and 1999-2000 would be punished. Kadyrov also promised to repair local highways and connect the village to the mains gas supply. For good measure, he also fired the district head and local police chief.
Just days later, however, Dzhalaldinov’s home was burned to the ground under suspicious circumstances, with his family accusing Chechen law enforcement personnel of torching the place and threatening to kill his wife and three daughters.