Russia’s oldest human rights group Memorial has said that Chechnya’s leader Ramzan Kadyrov likely directed ongoing attacks against it after he lost his Instagram account dues to U.S. sanctions.
In December, Vladimir Putin ally Kadyrov, 41 was sanctioned by the US Treasury over alleged human rights abuses. Facebook, which also owns Instagram, said the U.S. decision meant it was legally obliged to deactivate his accounts.
Last week, Memorial offices in the southern Russian republic of Ingushetia were torched by masked men. Days earlier, Oyub Titiev, the head of Memorial’s office in Chechen capital Grozny, was arrested for possession of six ounces of cannabis. That charge could potentially lead to a 10-year prison sentence.
Memorial representatives believe that Chechen security forces were involved in both cases.
One of Memorial’s founders Oleg Orlov said:
“The closure of his Instagram account is a matter of Kadyrov’s image, of his prestige. When he feels offended, nothing else is important to him – whoever gets in his way must be destroyed. We were held responsible for this by Kadyrov and his inner circle because we are one of the very few sources of information about rights abuses in Chechnya.”
Katya Sokirianskaia, another group founder and former representative in Grozny, added:
“I think this is partly revenge for losing his Instagram [account]. Being placed on the US sanctions list didn’t really bother Kadyrov, but the loss of Instagram was very painful for him. Kadyrov loved his Instagram. It was a very powerful propaganda tool for him, not just his favourite toy.”
According to the Guardian, since its founding by dissidents in 1989, Memorial has gained international respect for its work on Soviet-era repression and modern-day human rights abuses. Last year, it helped document the crackdown against gay men in Chechnya.