Masked gunmen attacked and seriously injured a prominent Russian journalist and a lawyer in Russia’s Chechnya region Tuesday morning after forcing their car to stop, the journalist, her employer and human rights groups said.

Yelena Milashina, a well-known journalist for the Novaya Gazeta newspaper, was traveling to the Chechen capital Grozny from the local airport with Alexander Nemov, a lawyer, when they were attacked.

Milashina and Nemov, who had planned to attend a court hearing in the case of a woman they believed was being unfairly persecuted for political reasons, were taken to a hospital in a neighboring region and are expected to be flown to Moscow for treatment. additional treatment.

«It was a classic kidnapping… They pinned him (our driver), threw him out of his car, got in, put my head down, tied my hands, knelt there and put a gun to my head.» Milashina told Mansur Soltayev, a Chechen human rights official, while she was in hospital in Grozny before being transferred.

Memorial, a banned rights group in Russia, said Milashina and Nemov had been «viciously kicked, including in the face, threatened with death, had a gun held to their heads, and had their equipment taken and vandalized.»

“While they were being beaten, they were telling them: ‘You have been warned. Get out of here and don’t write anything,’” Memorial said in a statement on Telegram.

A photograph of Milashina, whose newspaper was stripped of its license in Russia last year, showed her sitting on a hospital bed with her face covered in green dye thrown at her by her attackers, her head shaved by her attackers and bandages on her side. left. her right arm and hand amid reports that several of her fingers had been broken.

The Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin had been briefed on what it called «a very serious attack» which it said had to be investigated and followed by «strong measures.»

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, a close Putin ally, wrote on Telegram: “We will work it out. I have instructed the competent services to do everything possible to identify the attackers.»

But Soltayev, the Chechen human rights official, was quoted by the RIA news agency as saying the attack was «a provocation» against the Chechen authorities.

Some Russian lawmakers and officials in Moscow condemned the attack and demanded an investigation. Russia’s human rights commissioner, Tatyana Moskalkova, said those responsible must be punished.

Mokhmad Akhmadov, a senator from Chechnya, was quoted by RIA as saying he believed Kadyrov would get to the bottom of things and did not believe the attack had been officially sanctioned.

Milashina has spent years investigating alleged human rights abuses in Chechnya, including what she said was the mass arrest and torture of gay men in the region, and had received many threats before, including against her life.

Her employer evacuated her from Russia last year after Kadyrov described her as a terrorist in a social media post and she was attacked in Chechnya in 2020.

Kadyrov denies rights abuses and says such accusations are fabricated by criminals trying to discredit Chechnya and its authorities.

Human rights group “Team Against Torture” said Nemov, the lawyer accompanying her, had been stabbed in the leg, citing him as saying the masked attackers had used three cars to block the vehicle in which he and Milashina were traveling. .

Milashina and Nemov, both of whom were reported to have suffered numerous fractures in the attack, were in Chechnya to cover the sentencing of Zarema Musayeva, a Chechen woman accused of assaulting a police officer and fraud, charges she denied, in a case that the Critics saw it as revenge against her children and her husband, who were seen as disloyal by Kadyrov and have fled the country.

A Chechen court found Musayeva guilty on Tuesday and sentenced her to five and a half years in a penal colony.

Last year, a Russian court stripped Novaya Gazeta, run by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dmitry Muratov, of its media license, a move Muratov said was politically motivated.