Masked assailants attack a journalist and a lawyer in Russia’s Chechnya province

In this handout photo released by Novaya Gazeta Europe via web site Novayagazeta.eu on Tuesday, July 4, 2023, Novaya Gazeta journalist Elena Milashina sitts after giving her a medical treatment in Grozny, Russia. (AP)
In this handout photo released by Novaya Gazeta Europe via web site Novayagazeta.eu on Tuesday, July 4, 2023, Novaya Gazeta journalist Elena Milashina sitts after giving her a medical treatment in Grozny, Russia. (AP)
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Updated 05 July 2023
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Masked assailants attack a journalist and a lawyer in Russia’s Chechnya province

Masked assailants attack a journalist and a lawyer in Russia’s Chechnya province
  • Nemov said the attackers threatened to kill him and told him to plead for mercy as they put a pistol to his head

MOSCOW: Masked assailants in the Russian province of Chechnya attacked and brutally beat a prominent investigative reporter and a lawyer Tuesday, an assault that highlighted a violent pattern of rampant human rights abuses in the region.
Novaya Gazeta journalist Elena Milashina and lawyer Alexander Nemov were attacked soon after they arrived in Chechnya to attend the trial of Zarema Musayeva, the mother of two local activists who have challenged Chechen authorities.
Just outside the airport, their vehicle was blocked by several cars and they were attacked by a dozen unidentified masked attackers who beat them with clubs, put guns to their heads and broke their equipment.
Novaya Gazeta said Milashina sustained a concussion and had several fingers broken, but medics later determined her fingers weren’t fractured. Nemov had a deep cut on his leg. They were taken to a hospital in Chechnya’s main city, Grozny, and later to Beslan in the nearby region of North Ossetia. The newspaper said Milashina repeatedly lost consciousness.
Speaking from a hospital bed in a video, Milashina said the attack looked like a “classic abduction.”
“They threw the driver out of the car, got in, bent our heads down, tied my hands, forced me down to my knees and put a gun to my head,” she said, adding that the assailants were visibly nervous and had trouble tying her hands.
A photo from a hospital showed her talking over the phone, her face covered by green antiseptic the attackers doused on her. She had multiple bruises on her head shaved clean by the assailants.
Officials were considering their medical evacuation to Moscow.
In a later interview with Russian rights group Team Against Torture, which works in Chechnya and other regions, Milashina recalled the assailants telling Nemov: ‘You are defending too many people here. There is no need to defend anyone here.”
Milashina said the assailants threatened to cut her fingers if she refused to give a password to unlock her phone and then beat her on her fingers with a plastic tube. “It was very painful. It felt like a burn,” she said.
The attackers grabbed their equipment but didn’t touch cash and other valuables, Milashina said.
Nemov said the attackers threatened to kill him and told him to plead for mercy as they put a pistol to his head.
Milashina said Nemov believed that they may have been shadowed since they boarded their Chechnya-bound flight in Moscow.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a conference call with reporters that Russian President Vladimir Putin was informed about the incident. Peskov added that “it was a very serious assault that warrants energetic measures” from law enforcement agencies.
Other Russian agencies, including the human rights ombudsperson, condemned the attack and called for an investigation.
Alexander Bastrykin, head of the Investigative Committee, the country’s top state criminal investigation agency, ordered a probe into the attack.
Chechnya’s Moscow-backed strongman leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who branded Milashina a “terrorist” in the past, said the regional authorities had launched an investigation and would track down the attackers.
The strong statements and a quick response from Russian authorities contrasted with a muted official reaction to previous attacks on Milashina and other journalists and human rights activists in Chechnya.
Milashina has long exposed human rights violations in Chechnya and has faced threats, intimidation and attacks. In 2020, she and a lawyer accompanying her were beaten by a dozen people in the lobby of their hotel. Last year, she temporarily left Russia after she was threatened by Chechen authorities.
She has won widespread acclaim for her investigative reporting, which included exposing the torture and killings of gay people in Chechnya and other abuses by feared Chechen paramilitary forces.
In 2013, Milashina received an International Women of Courage Award from the US Department of State.
Amnesty International strongly condemned Tuesday’s attack on Milashina and Nemov and urged Russian authorities to track down the assailants. “This callous crime exemplifies the extreme dangers that those who fight injustice and defend human rights face in a context of open hostility from the authorities and total impunity for perpetrators,” Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia Director, said in a statement.
Hours after Tuesday’s attack, a court in Grozny sentenced Zarema Musayeva to 5½ years in prison on charges of insulting and violently resisting police, an accusation that rights groups have rejected as trumped up.
Despite Tuesday’s attack, Milashina vowed to travel again to Chechnya to attend Musayeva’s appeal hearing.
Musayeva had been in custody in Grozny since Chechen security forces grabbed her from her home in the Volga River city of Nizhny Novgorod and drove her to Chechnya in January 2022. Her husband, a former judge, and her two activist sons have left Chechnya. Kadyrov has accused the Musayev family of having terrorist links and said they should be imprisoned or killed if they offered resistance.
The Kremlin has relied on Kadyrov to keep the North Caucasus region stable after two devastating separatist wars. International rights groups have accused his security forces of extrajudicial killings, torture and abductions of dissenters, but Russian authorities have stonewalled repeated demands to investigate and end abuses in Chechnya.
Anna Politkovskaya, a widely acclaimed investigative Novaya Gazeta reporter who exposed human rights abuses in Chechnya, was shot dead in the elevator of her Moscow apartment building on Oct. 7, 2006. A Russian court convicted the gunman and three other Chechens involved in the killing along with a former Moscow police officer who was their accomplice, but investigators have failed to determine who ordered the killing.
On July 15, 2009, Natalia Estemirova, a leading rights defender in Chechnya and a strong critic of Kadyrov, was abducted and later found dead with shots to the head and chest. Her murder has remained unsolved.
Kadyrov’s clout has risen further since the start of Moscow’s campaign in Ukraine, where his security forces have played an active part. The Kremlin scrambled fighters from Chechnya to help protect Moscow from an abortive mutiny launched by mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin 11 days ago, but some commentators warned that Kadyrov’s ambitions could also potentially pose a threat to federal authorities.
Despite the Kremlin’s support, Kadyrov reportedly has had tense relations with some of Russia’s law enforcement agencies. The angry reaction from officials and Kremlin-connected lawmakers who called for a tough response could signal authorities’ intentions to cut the Chechen strongman down to size.

 


Arab News scoops 4 Merit Winner nods in 59th Society of Publication Designers competition

Arab News scoops 4 Merit Winner nods in 59th Society of Publication Designers competition
Updated 20 April 2024
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Arab News scoops 4 Merit Winner nods in 59th Society of Publication Designers competition

Arab News scoops 4 Merit Winner nods in 59th Society of Publication Designers competition
  • Awards across print, digital, infographics and illustrations ‘testament to talent and dedication of design and editorial teams’

LONDON: Arab News, the leading English-language daily newspaper in the Middle East, has won four Merit Winner awards at this year’s Society of Publication Designers competition.

Arab News’ “The Kingdom vs. Captagon” Spotlight piece garnered recognition in the two categories — Custom Feature and Single Page.

The two remaining accolades went to the “Onions’ tears and inflation fears” in the Feature Opener category and the “Guide to Hajj” in Infographic, commended for its exceptional data visualization.

“We are extremely proud to have won four awards at this year’s prestigious SPD competition,” Omar Nashashibi, head of design at Arab News, said.

“To win awards across print, digital, infographics and illustrations is testament to the talent and dedication of the Arab News design and editorial teams in creating engaging content for our readers.”

Since 1965, the annual SPD awards have promoted and celebrated excellence in editorial design, photography and illustration across both print and digital mediums. This year, the competition’s jury received thousands of entries from around the globe.  


Man who set himself on fire outside Trump trial dies of injuries, police say

Man who set himself on fire outside Trump trial dies of injuries, police say
Updated 20 April 2024
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Man who set himself on fire outside Trump trial dies of injuries, police say

Man who set himself on fire outside Trump trial dies of injuries, police say
  • Some officers and bystanders rushed to the aid of the man
  • The man, who police said recently traveled from Florida to New York, had not breached any security checkpoints to access the park

NEW YORK: A man who doused himself in an accelerant and set himself on fire outside the courthouse where former President Donald Trump is on trial has died, police said.
The New York City Police Department told The Associated Press early Saturday that the man was declared dead by staff at an area hospital.
The man was in Collect Pond Park around 1:30 p.m. Friday when he took out pamphlets espousing conspiracy theories, tossed them around, then doused himself in an accelerant and set himself on fire, officials and witnesses said.
A large number of police officers were nearby when it happened. Some officers and bystanders rushed to the aid of the man, who was hospitalized in critical condition at the time.
The man, who police said recently traveled from Florida to New York, had not breached any security checkpoints to access the park.

The park outside the courthouse has been a gathering spot for protesters, journalists and gawkers throughout Trump’s trial, which began with jury selection Monday.
Through Friday, the streets and sidewalks in the area around the courthouse were generally wide open and crowds have been small and largely orderly.
Authorities said they were also reviewing the security protocols, including whether to restrict access to the park. The side street where Trump enters and leaves the building is off limits.
“We may have to shut this area down,” New York City Police Department Deputy Commissioner Kaz Daughtry said at a news conference outside the courthouse Friday, adding that officials would discuss the security plan soon.


Russian war correspondent for Izvestia killed in Ukraine

Russian war correspondent for Izvestia killed in Ukraine
Updated 20 April 2024
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Russian war correspondent for Izvestia killed in Ukraine

Russian war correspondent for Izvestia killed in Ukraine
  • Izvestia said Semyon Eremin, 42, died of wounds from a drone attack in Zaporizhzhia region
  • Eremin had reported for the Russian daily from hottest battles in Ukraine during the 25-month-old war

Semyon Eremin, a war correspondent for the Russian daily Izvestia, was killed on Friday in a drone attack in southeastern Ukraine, the daily said.

Izvestia said Eremin, 42, died of wounds suffered when a drone made a second pass over the area where he was reporting in Zaporizhzhia region.
Izvestia said Eremin had sent reports from many of the hottest battles in Ukraine’s eastern regions during the 25-month-old war, including Mariupol, besieged by Russian troops for nearly three months in 2022.
He had also reported from Maryinka and Vuhledar, towns at the center of many months of heavy fighting.


WhatsApp being used to target Palestinians through Israel’s Lavender AI system

WhatsApp being used to target Palestinians through Israel’s Lavender AI system
Updated 20 April 2024
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WhatsApp being used to target Palestinians through Israel’s Lavender AI system

WhatsApp being used to target Palestinians through Israel’s Lavender AI system
  • Targets’ selection based on membership to some WhatsApp groups, new report reveals
  • Accusation raises questions about app’s privacy and encryption claims

LONDON: WhatsApp is allegedly being used to target Palestinians through Israel’s contentious artificial intelligence system, Lavender, which has been linked to the deaths of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, recent reports have revealed.

Earlier this month, Israeli-Palestinian publication +972 Magazine and Hebrew-language outlet Local Call published a report by journalist Yuval Abraham, exposing the Israeli army’s use of an AI system capable of identifying targets associated with Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

This revelation, corroborated by six Israeli intelligence officers involved in the project, has sparked international outrage, as it suggested Lavender has been used by the military to target and eliminate suspected militants, often resulting in civilian casualties.

In a recent blog post, software engineer and activist Paul Biggar highlighted Lavender’s reliance on WhatsApp.

He pointed out how membership in a WhatsApp group containing a suspected militant can influence Lavender’s identification process, highlighting the pivotal role messaging platforms play in supporting AI targeting systems like Lavender.

“A little-discussed detail in the Lavender AI article is that Israel is killing people based on being in the same WhatsApp group as a suspected militant,” Bigger wrote. “There’s a lot wrong with this.”

He explained that users often find themselves in groups with strangers or acquaintances.

Biggar also suggested that WhatsApp’s parent company, Meta, may be complicit, whether knowingly or unknowingly, in these operations.

He accused Meta of potentially violating international humanitarian law and its own commitments to human rights, raising questions about the privacy and encryption claims of WhatsApp’s messaging service.

The revelation is just the latest of Meta’s perceived attempts to silence pro-Palestinian voices.

Since before the beginning of the conflict, the Menlo Park giant has faced accusations of double standards favoring Israel.

In February, the Guardian revealed that Meta was considering the expansion of its hate speech policy to the term “Zionist.”

More recently, Meta quietly introduced a new feature on Instagram that automatically limits users’ exposure to what it deems “political” content, a decision criticized by experts as a means of systematically censoring pro-Palestinian content.

Responding to requests for comment, a WhatsApp spokesperson said that the company could not verify the accuracy of the report but assured that “WhatsApp has no backdoors and does not provide bulk information to any government.”


Eastern European mercenaries suspected of attacking Iranian journalist Pouria Zeraati

Eastern European mercenaries suspected of attacking Iranian journalist Pouria Zeraati
Updated 19 April 2024
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Eastern European mercenaries suspected of attacking Iranian journalist Pouria Zeraati

Eastern European mercenaries suspected of attacking Iranian journalist Pouria Zeraati
  • UK security services believe criminal proxies with links to Tehran carried out London knife attack

LONDON: Police said on Friday that a group of Eastern European mercenaries is suspected to have carried out the knife attack on Iranian journalist Pouria Zeraati in late March.

Zeraati was stabbed repeatedly by three men in an attack outside his south London home.

The Iran International presenter lost a significant amount of blood and was hospitalized for several days. He has since returned to work, but is now living in a secure location.

Iran International and its staff have faced repeated threats, believed to be linked to the Iranian regime, which designated the broadcaster as a terrorist organization for its coverage of the 2022 protests.

Iran’s charge d’affaires, Seyed Mehdi Hosseini Matin, denied any government involvement in the attack on Zeraati.

Investigators revealed that the suspects fled the UK immediately after the incident, with reports suggesting they traveled to Heathrow Airport before boarding commercial flights to different destinations.

Police are pursuing leads in Albania as part of their investigation.

Counterterrorism units and Britain’s security services leading the inquiry believe that the attack is another instance of the Iranian regime employing criminal proxies to target its critics on foreign soil.

This method allows Tehran to maintain plausible deniability and avoids raising suspicions when suspects enter the country.

Zeraati was attacked on March 29 as he left his home home to travel to work. His weekly show serves as a source of impartial and uncensored news for many Iranians at home and abroad.

In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s “Today” program this week, Zeraati said that while he is physically “much better,” mental recovery from the assault “will take time.”