Very ominous news out of Russia, from Human Rights Watch. One of the group’s researchers, Tanya Lokshina, has received threatening text messages on her mobile phone. Here is a quote from HRW’s statement:

The texts, which were sent between two and five times per day from September 28 to 30, 2012, made reference to Lokshina’s pregnancy and many other personal details. The senders of the messages also made a crude attempt to falsely link Lokshina to Islamic insurgents. One message read, ‘[We] are waiting for the birth of your child for him to join our fight for freedom, so help us Allah.’

Lokshina has monitored the violence in Russia’s North Caucasus region between security forces and Muslim extremists.

The messages, HRW said, “implied that both she and her unborn child would come to harm in the near future. The authors claimed they were ‘nearby’ coming after her and predicted an ‘uneasy ‘birth.’ ”

Sensibly, the group is publicizing the threats because the spotlight should help to, at best, find the culprits and, at worst, get them to desist. But this is especially scary because there is a recent history in Russia of journalists or human rights workers receiving threats (sometimes by text message) or being abused, going public, and getting killed anyway. It happened to Anna Politkovskaya, Sergei Magnitsky, Natalia Estemirova, and Stanislav Markelov.

HRW has reported the messages to the police, but its statement notes that the fact that the messages contain private information, like her “movements and those of relatives, details of her pregnancy, and her unlisted home address,” suggest that she has been under surveillance, “with the possible involvement of law enforcement and security officials.”

Barbara Frye

Barbara Frye is Transitions Online’s managing editor. Email: barbara.frye@tol.org

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