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Journalists and human rights workers attacked in Russia's North Caucasus region

Russian and foreign journalists and human rights workers have been attacked in southern Russia. They were beaten and their minibus set on fire with their passports inside. DW's Emma Burrows reports from Moscow.

The group of Russian and foreign journalists and human rights workers were on their way to the Chechen capital of Grozny from Ingushetia when they were attacked by about 20 unidentified men, Russian media report.

In a statement published on the website of the presidential council for the development of civil society, Igor Kalyapin, the Chairman of the Committee Against Torture, said that the journalists and human rights activists were beaten up by unknown assailants, their mobile phones seized and their minibus set on fire with all their equipment and passports inside.

The group was on a press tour organized by the Committee Against Torture, one of only a handful of organizations still operating in the North Caucasus. On the trip, the group introduced journalists to people who had been tortured or whose relatives had disappeared.

The organization said that their lawyer, journalists from Norway and Sweden, and the driver of the minibus were all taken to a hospital with injuries. Dmitry Utukin, a lawyer for the organization, posted on his Twitter account that some of those injured had bruises, dislocated joints and issues with their teeth.

A few hours after the incident on Wednesday evening, a separate attack occurred where armed men attacked the office of the Joint Mobile Group in Ingushetia, a monitoring organization set up by the Committee Against Torture.

Footage of the attack posted on Twitter by Dmitry Utukin appears to show a group of men in camouflage breaking security cameras.

Later he posted more footage online of a third incident at the organization's office where it appears an armed man also tried to break down the door.

A criminal investigation has been launched into the attack. In Moscow single-person protests were held outside the Presidential Administration calling for the authorities to find those responsible.

The Kremlin has condemned the attack on the minibus as "hooliganism" and "absolutely disgraceful" but non-governmental organizations are blaming the Russian government for fostering a climate which is hostile to the media.

Katie Morris, Head of Europe and Central Asia at Article 19, an NGO which promotes freedom of expression, said "the Russian judicial system has proved incapable of ensuring that the perpetrators of murder or other attacks on journalists are punished, creating an environment of almost total impunity. This creates an environment in which violence against journalists is seen to be tolerated, casting a chilling effect on freedom of expression."

Russland Tschechien Vladimir Putin und Ramzan Kadyrov im Gespräch

Vladimir Putin (l.) with Ramzan Kadyrov

Tanya Cooper, Russia researcher at Human Rights Watch, called the attack on the minibus "brazen" saying "the authorities have made no meaningful attempt to prevent or investigate the repeated attacks in the North Caucasus on people who criticize the government."

The group was on its way to Chechnya when they were attacked - a region which is run by Vladimir Putin's ally Ramzan Kadyrov, a former Chechen rebel.

His critics say he is allowed to run Chechnya as he wants in exchange for crushing separatist dissent and supporting the Kremlin in its fight against Islamist extremism. According to Ilya Yashin, an opposition politician who recently published a report on Kadyrov, Chechnya "long ago stopped complying with Russian law.

In 2014 unidentified attackers set fire to the office of the Committee Against Torture in Grozny, the Chechen capital, and last year it was raided by masked men.

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