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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russia Update: September 8, 2016

Publication: Russia Update
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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Journalists Attacked While Covering Protest of Mothers in Beslan
Two independent journalists covering a protest in Beslan in Northern Ossetia were twice attacked and one was injured.

As we reported, Novaya Gazeta journalist Elena Kostyuchenko and a colleague, Diana Khachatryan of the magazine Takiye Dela traveled to Beslan in North Ossetia last week to report on the 12th anniversary of the terrorist school siege in which 385 people, including 186 children were killed on September 1, 2004.

The journalists covered the memorial services and a protest organized by Voice of Beslan, a group of parents whose children were taken hostage and killed either in the terrorist attack or subsequent storming of their school by special forces. They have demanded accountability from the government for the disastrous rescue attempt which wound up killing as many people as the terrorists had.

As Yelena Milashina of Novaya Gazeta reported on September 3, the parents were surrounded by counter-protesters in t-shirts with the word "Anti-Terror" who had been hanging around the school for the past few days. One mother began filming the "Anti-Terror" youth and then they grabbed her camera and ripped her dress.

Kostyucheko then took out her phone and begin filming the incident. A man in an "Anti-Terror" t-shirt in turn grabbed her phone and notebook, then twisted her arms behind her back and dragged her across the gym and courtyard of the school. Police then stopped the attacker and told Kostyuchenko they knew him and would get her telephone back.

Then as Elena was sitting and making a report to the policemen about the assault and theft, another young man in an "Anti-Terror" t-shirt came up and poured zelyonka on her, an indelible disinfectant often used by thugs in Russia and Ukraine to humiliate liberal opposition and journalists, reported, citing Interfax.

Meanwhile, while Khachatryan was attempting to photograph Kostyuchenko, another man struck her in the back and grabbed her phone and casually walked away. He then returned and told two other men to seize the journalist, and ultimately let her go. Police did not make any move to detain them.

Then later in the day, the two journalists went to the cemetery where the victims were buried. A man in a hat approached them and told them to "get out." He then grabbed the women by their collars and dragged them along the ground, then stopped and began to beat Kostyuchenko, striking her face. Police who were several meters away did not intervene. Later, the journalists discovered the man was the groundskeeper and had lost his own child in the terrorist attack. He blamed the journalists for organizing the demonstration and disrupting the memorial service.

When the two reporters went to the police to make a complaint, they were held at the police station and told that it was the only safe place for them in Beslan. Only when officials in the Interior Ministry in Moscow intervened after the editors of Novaya Gazeta complained to them were the journalists released. Their telephones were delivered directly to them at the airport as they prepared to fly home. They then discovered that the phones had been stripped of all data including apps. Police said they "found them by the railroad tracks."

Later, police tracked down the first young man and he will likely be charged with "petty hooliganism," according to an Interfax source. His name was not given.

The man was unapologetic and justified his action by saying Kostyucheko "did not behave properly" during the memorial services -- by which he meant that she was critical of the Russian government's handling of the hostage ordeal, as are the relatives of those killed. reports that at least six members of Voice of Beslan, a group of parents of children killed during the attack protested about the lack of government accountability for the storming. They were detained along with the Moscow journalists. The parents were then fined from 500 to 20,000 rubles (US $8 to $313) for violating the law on demonstrations, which requires permission from officials.

Today, September 8, Kostyucheko wrote on her Facebook page that she had returned to Moscow, and that after visiting the doctor, found that she had apparently suffered traumatic brain injury in the attack.

"It sounds funny, but it can be seen right on the MRI," she said. The doctor ordered her not to go on her computer for more than 20 minutes a day. She reiterated that while police had been able to find and return their cell phones to them, the pictures and recordings were erased.

Kostyuchenko said she would write a fuller report after she recovered, and swore at the siloviki of the RSO-A, i.e. the law-enforcers of the Republic of Northern Ossetia-Alania, as it is known formally.

She also told a Human Rights Watch representative who offered assistance that she would file charges under Art. 144, which is the article in the Criminal Code related to the obstruction of the media by officials.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick