Two Russian nationals have been detained by police in Sweden in connection with what authorities are calling the attempted murder of a prominent blogger and critic of the Chechen government last month.
Tumso Abdurakhmanov, who fled Russia several years ago, said he survived the February 26 attack by overpowering an assailant armed with a hammer.
It was the second attack outside of Russia this year on a critic of Chechnya’s Kremlin-backed leader Ramzan Kadyrov.
Media watchdog groups expressed alarm over the assault on Abdurakhmanov, including the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Abdurakhmanov live-streamed the aftermath of the attack, standing over a bloodied man on the ground, asking him in Russian: “Who sent you? Where are you from?”
The man replies: “From Moscow … They have my mother.”
Local Swedish prosecutor Therese Stensson told Reuters on March 6 that the prosecution was studying the video, which was widely shared on social media but not independently verified.
She added that the attack had taken place in the town of Gavle.
A 29-year-old Russian man has been detained since March 1 on suspicion of attempted murder, the prosecutor said, while on March 6 Gavle District Court ordered into custody an alleged accomplice, a 30-year-old woman also from Russia.
In online posts and videos, Abdurakhmanov has been highly critical of Kadyrov for oppressing opponents.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on February 27 played down the incident and other attacks on critics of the Chechen leader, saying: “We are not inclined to draw parallels.”
The incident was first reported by a Chechen rights group, though it had given the location as Poland. In the past, Abdurakhmanov had sought asylum in Poland, but was turned down, despite appeals from human rights groups, including Amnesty International.
Human rights workers have accused Kadyrov of widespread abuses in the region, allegations he denies. They say Kadyrov is ultimately responsible for the violence and intimidation of political opponents by Chechen authorities, including kidnappings, forced disappearances, torture, and extra-judicial killings. Supporters claim Kadyrov has brought relative calm to the volatile region following two wars between Moscow and separatists after the 1991 break-up of the Soviet Union.
In late January, the body of Imran Aliyev, another Chechen blogger known for his criticism of Kadyrov, was found in a hotel room in the northern French city of Lille with stab wounds, according to French media.
The Committee to Protect Journalists said the attack on Abdurakhmanov was “alarming and must be thoroughly investigated.”
“Bringing the perpetrators of this attack to justice is crucial for ensuring the safety of Chechen dissidents living in Europe,” said Gulnoza Said, Europe and Central Asia program coordinator at the New York-based media watchdog.
“Alarmed by the reported attempt to assassinate” Abdurakhmanov, the representative on Freedom of the Media for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Harlem Desir, tweeted on February 27, noting that the attack came after last month’s suspected murder of Aliyev in France.