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Diplomat calls out Finnish journalist for getting ‘cold feet’ on Chechnya visit pledge

June 05, 2017, 15:59 UTC+3 MOSCOW

The Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman comments on a Finnish journalist’s refusal to travel to Chechnya to assess the actual LGBT rights situation

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Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova

© Anton Novoderezhkin/TASS Host Photo Agency

MOSCOW, June 5. /TASS/. Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova expressed disappointment with a Finnish journalist’s refusal to travel to Chechnya in order to assess the actual LGBT rights situation.

"The Finnish journalist who came to the Russian Foreign Ministry to find out if the Chechen gays issue was politically motivated, has changed his mind and no longer plans to visit Chechnya, as he and his editors announced over social networks," Zakharova wrote on Facebook.

According to the Russian diplomat, "the Finnish people explained their decision saying they did not wat to be led by the authorities." "Head of the Yle broadcasting company’s international department Elina Ravantti said that one of the main goals of journalist trips was to meet freely with various people important for their reports but that goal was hard to reach if officials took part in setting up the trip plan," Zakharova added.

"This is really very, very funny," the Russian diplomat said. "First, the Finnish journalist had not planned to visit Chechnya before we invited him - it seems to have been unnecessary for the report. Second, it was the authorities to whom he turned in his quest for answers, moreover, he came to those who are responsible for the foreign policy, that is, the foreign ministry!" Zakharova wrote.

At the same time, when the Russian Foreign Ministry proposed that "instead of politicizing the issue he work ‘on the ground’, his seniors immediately started saying it was inappropriate to engage with the authorities," the Russian diplomat went on to say. "Frankly speaking, I thought he was better than that," she added. "When he talked to me, he was full of enthusiasm and determination, so I believed that he really wanted to go, but the editors forbade him to do that so he gave up."

"It is still a secret who gave the orders to the editors," Zakharova stated. "But the truth is that the Finnish journalist called off his visit to Chechnya citing the editors’ decision. I don’t know what it is called in Finland, but in Russia we call it having cold feet," she noted.

"In short, western journalists continue to hunt Pokemon," the Russian foreign ministry’s spokeswoman quipped. "But I am sure that one day they will feel sick at disguising this as journalism and will resume their impartial work," Zakharova noted.

LGBT rights issue

On April 1, Russia’s Novaya Gazeta daily raised the issue of gay people’s civil rights being violated in Chechnya. In an article entitled "Honor Killing," the daily reported, citing anonymous sources in law enforcement agencies and unnamed victims, that some residents of Chechnya had been detained and allegedly killed over their non-traditional sexual orientation.

On April 20, Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that allegations about the persecution of LGBT people in Chechnya were groundless. On the same day, Russian Human Rights Ombudsperson Tatyana Moskalkova suggested that reports about the alleged persecution of individuals, who were of non-traditional sexual orientations in Chechnya could be a provocation.

Chechnya’s Council for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights said that after assessing the situation it had found neither direct, nor indirect evidence to back up these allegations.

On May 5, Moskalkova informed Russian President Vladimir Putin that she had been tackling violations of LGBT people’s rights and asked him to issue instructions on setting up an inter-agency working group that would be active in Central Russia instead of Chechnya and receive people’s requests if any were made. Putin promised to discuss the civil rights issue of LGBT people in the North Caucasus with Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika and Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev.

In early May, top diplomats from five EU member states forwarded a letter to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, stressing that media reports about the persecution of LGBT people in Chechnya had raised great concern in Europe’s capitals. Head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov, in turn, said that regional authorities were ready to cooperate with federal agencies in order to look into media reports about the situation with sexual minorities in the region. However, no official reports on their persecution have been received yet.

Zakharova recently asked Kadyrov to help the Finnish journalist arrange a visit to the region, and the head of Chechnya said he was ready to assist.

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