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Russian rights group Memorial’s office in Nazran has been severely damaged in an arson attack. Early morning on 17 January, two people wearing masks entered the second floor of the building, which houses the group’s office, and set it ablaze.
According to Memorial’s website, a CCTV camera captured the moment of the attack. Two men wearing masks and carrying a canister reportedly arrived by car at 03:35, then climbed a ladder to the second floor. After unsuccessfully trying to destroy the camera, they disappeared from view upon reaching the window.
Three of the office’s six rooms were destroyed in the fire, with a number of documents burnt. The fire services arrived to the building and swiftly put out the flames.
The head of Memorial in Ingushetia, Timur Akiyev, told Novaya Gazeta the two men were probably trapped in the office because it was locked, and this is what saved the rest of the office.
Former board member of Memorial and project director International Crisis Group Yekaterina Sokiryanskaya, now Director of the Conflict Analysis and Prevention Centre, posted a photo of the office after the fire to her Twitter account.
This is how Memorial office in Nazran where I've spent 5 years of my life looks today. It was set it on fire last night. Activists and journalists who came to support Oyub Titiev are closely followed, stopped five times in two days to "check their connection to insurgency" pic.twitter.com/poIsYUxRMI
— Katya Sokirianskaia (@KSokirianskaia) 17 stycznia 2018
Memorial board member Oleg Orlov has called the fire ‘a terror attack’, the BBC’s Russian service reports.
‘We connect this terror attack to the process of pushing us out of the Chechen Republic, because we think that those who want to destroy independent human rights work in Chechnya also want to push out all human rights defenders from the North Caucasus region’, he said. Orlov pointed to prosecution of Memorial’s leader in Chechnya Oyub Titiyev.
Titiyev was arrested on 9 December after police say they found him in possession of 180 grammes of cannabis. Titiyev has denied the charges. A number of human rights activists have condemned his arrest, claiming the charges were fabricated so as to silence him.
‘We find obvious the connection between this arson and those powers who want to destroy the work of in Chechnya and push out Memorial from the North Caucasus altogether’, the group’s website says.
Memorial operates throughout Russia, including the North Caucasus. Recent cases the group has worked on in the region include ‘abuse’ by law enforcement during special operations, mass arrests of and persecutions of individual Muslims, torture by police, and attacks on businessmen.