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Chechen security forces ‘threaten to kill’ families of Telegram channel admins

5 January 2024
Head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov speaking at a meeting of Interior Ministry and National Guard officials on 30 December. Screengrab from video: Ramzan Kadyrov/Telegram

Chechen security forces have reportedly visited and threatened to murder the relatives of individuals associated with the NIYSO Telegram channel, shortly after Kadyrov announced a crackdown on critics of the government. 

A representative of the team behind the channel told RFE/RL that the security forces had come to the homes of their relatives, and threatened to kill their fathers, brothers, and male cousins. 

NIYSO is an anti-government Telegram channel covering events in Chechnya which frequently criticises the head of the republic, Ramzan Kadyrov.

The source stated that while pressure on the relatives of those running Telegram channels critical of the authorities had taken place previously, such incidents had intensified following a meeting of the Chechen government at the end of December. 

‘Information reached us that [the Chechen authorities] held a meeting specifically about our team’, NIYSO was reported as saying. ‘At this meeting, the order was given to destroy our outlet by any means — to stop our activists through their relatives.’

It followed a vow in late December by Head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov to crack down on his critics on social media, which he accused of spreading ‘extremist and terrorist propaganda’.

After meeting with senior members of Chechnya’s Interior Ministry and National Guard on 30 December, Kadyrov wrote that young people were being ‘encouraged to commit serious crimes on the platforms of several social networks administered from abroad’.

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‘I emphasised that any attempt to commit an attack on a person’s life will also affect the relatives of the perpetrator’, Kadyrov wrote on his own Telegram channel.

A number of Chechen Telegram channels critical of the authorities, the most prominent being 1ADAT and NIYSO, are run by Chechens from abroad, operating alongside opposition bloggers also based outside Chechnya. 

Kadyrov went on to openly threaten the relatives of his critics.

‘Close relatives should know what a representative of their family is doing and take responsibility for them, as Chechen [customs] have been teaching us for centuries’, he wrote.

According to RFE/RL, Kadyrov also appeared to openly threaten his critics abroad.

‘We will not spare anyone who calls for organising something in Chechnya. No matter what nation he is in, we will send a request for the extradition of the terrorist. If they don’t extradite him, then we must get rid of him as best we can’, he reportedly said. ‘They talk about us, make films about us, say whatever they want — we should not leave that be.’

A number of Chechen dissidents have faced assassination abroad, with a German court accusing Russia of ‘state terrorism’ over the 2019 killing of Zelimkhan Khangoshvili in Berlin.

Kadyrov also reportedly called on anyone in Chechnya who disagreed with the government’s ‘vision’ to ‘leave the republic’. 

The intimidation of opposition bloggers through their relatives has taken place previously. In August 2023, the nephew of prominent opposition figure Akhmed Zakayev was sent to fight in Ukraine. The same took place for relatives of the Yangulbayev brothers, who run the opposition Telegram channel 1ADAT, as well as the brother of blogger Khasan Khalitov.

Others have also been forced to verbally reject their relatives. In February 2022, representatives of the Keloy clan, which the Yangulbayev brothers belong to, cursed and renounced them on video. 

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