Friday 7 July 2023 – VUB and ULB are deeply concerned by the violent attack on Russian journalist Elena Milashina in Grozny. Milashina, Doctor Honoris Causa of the two universities, represents press freedom that yet again must be defended and promoted.
On Tuesday 4 July, Novaya Gazeta journalist Elena Milashina travelled to the Russian republic of Chechnya to attend a trial against the mother of a prominent Chechen activist. She was accompanied by lawyer Alexander Nemov. While on route to the capital, Grozny, a gang of armed and masked men blocked her car and began to attack the pair. They were kicked, had a firearm held at their heads and were brutally beaten with clubs. Milashina suffered broken fingers and a brain injury. She fainted several times, her head was shaved and she was doused with green disinfectant.
According to human rights organisation Memorial, the attack was a warning. The gang ordered Milashina to leave without writing about the trial. It follows a number of other threats to Milashina’s home. Since the newspaper was founded, six journalists and staff of Novaya Gazeta have already been killed, including Anna Politkovskaia. In 2017, the Chechen authorities threatened the entire organisation after Milashina exposed mass purges against the LGBT community in Chechnya
In October 2019, the leader of the republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, made threatening remarks against Milashina following the publication of an investigation into ongoing purges within the Chechen authorities. In 2020, Milashina was threatened several times by the Chechen government.
On 3 May 2019, World Press Freedom Day, Milashina received an honorary doctorate from VUB and ULB at Difference Day. This made her a full member of the universities’ communities, and VUB and ULB used the award to draw attention to the battle she and her colleagues are waging to preserve the independent investigative press in Russia.
VUB and ULB reaffirm their full support for Elena Milashina and for freedom of expression. They call on the Russian authorities to launch an independent investigation into the attack as soon as possible, and to identify the perpetrators. We also hope security measures will be implemented to allow Milashina to continue her work.