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“They knew what they wanted and what their limits were”: Elena Milashina and Alexander Nemov recount being beaten and forced to eat soil

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In a conversation with the Crew Against Torture published on Telegram, Elena Milashina, a Novaya Gazeta journalist, recounted how she and lawyer Alexander Nemov were assaulted in Chechnya on July 4. According to her, they were most likely followed as far back as Moscow, because the departure of their flight was delayed until two more people boarded the plane. They sat in the seats next to Nemov.

Nemov was beaten with extreme cruelty, according to Milashina, with the assailants saying that he was acting like “too much of a defender” in Chechnya. Milashina bears visible bruises from beatings with polypropylene pipes, commonly used for torture in Chechnya, while Nemov had a knife lodged in his calf muscle.

Nemov recalled that shortly after leaving the airport in a taxi, they were stopped by masked men in three Toyota Camry cars. They forcefully removed the taxi driver and made the passengers lie face down on the ground. According to Nemov, the assailants told him they would have killed him if not for his children:

“After a while, the car stopped running. They took us out of the car and led us into a ravine. There they put us on our knees and started beating us. They stabbed me in the leg right away. I tried to explain that I was a lawyer, that I was just doing my job. They answered that in Chechnya you don't have to defend anyone, they'll do it themselves.
Then they covered my head with my own jacket and began to beat me up. It felt like polyethylene pipes. Then their leader put a gun to my head and said he would have killed me if he hadn't felt sorry for my children. Then they told us to count to 100 and only then open our eyes. But I didn't count to 100 and opened my eyes early. When their leader saw this, he came up to me and kicked me in the chest,” Nemov told Telegram channel NeMoskva.

In a video recorded by Sergei Babintsev, the head of the Crew Against Torture, at the Republican Clinical Hospital in Vladikavkaz, Elena Milashina describes how the attackers had a clear objective and were pressed for time. The pair was forced to lie face down on the ground, and Milashina still experiences the taste of raw soil in her mouth, needing to drink water frequently.

“They knew what they wanted, what their limits were, what they couldn't go over. Although we then already thought that if they had caught Sasha's artery... But the doctors said they knew exactly where to stab him, apparently, so he wouldn't put up much of a fight, because he was a man. They were fully aware of their capabilities and limitations. Their main task was to obtain the passwords for our phones. They instructed us to count to a hundred while we lay on the ground, and they even forced me to eat some of that soil. Eventually, they left.
Sasha and I thought they were gone, but they returned and started beating us again. Sasha was beaten badly, and they attempted to break my fingers, although they did not succeed. In Grozny, I received a cast for my three injured fingers, as confirmed by the X-ray. In Ossetia, they conducted further examinations and determined that I had a concussion, but no fractures. They [the assailants] knew exactly what they were doing.
They didn't take the money, I had 13 thousand [roubles] crumpled up, and they didn't take the [credit] cards. They were only interested in our equipment and documents. They destroyed all of Sasha's documents, except for his passport, his foreign passport, and his lawyer's ID.”

Milashina and Nemov flew to Chechnya for the sentencing of Zarema Musayeva, the mother of Chechen human rights defenders Abubakar and Ibrahim Yangulbayev. Musayeva has been imprisoned in Grozny's pre-trial detention center for more than a year.

Her case began in January 2022, when Chechen law enforcers broke into the Musayev family apartment in Nizhny Novgorod, some 1,800 kilometers from Chechnya. The woman was taken to Chechnya and accused of “using violence against a police officer” and fraud. On July 4 – after Milashina and Nemov's beating became public knowledge – a court sentenced Musayeva to 5.5 years in a penal colony.

Musayeva’s husband, retired judge Saidi Yangulbayev, and their sons, human rights activists Abubakar and Ibrahim, regularly criticized the Ramzan Kadyrov regime.

Abubakar Yangulbayev has accused Kadyrov's law enforcement and security officers of “lawlessness on a daily basis” and said the case against his mother is Kadyrov's personal retaliation for his activities.

Kadyrov and multiple other Chechen officials, including a member of the Russian State Duma, have publicly vowed to kill all members of the Yangulbayev family, calling them “terrorists.”

Baisangur Yangulbayev and his brother Ibrahim left Russia in 2021. Abubakar fled Russia in December 2022. Their father, retired federal Judge Saidi Yangulbayev, and their sister Aliya, fled Russia in early 2022 fearing for their safety.

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