Memorial, the human rights organisation that had their offices torched in Chechnya last week, has claimed that the attack happened because the President had his Instagram account closed.
The Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, recently had his Instagram page shut down due to US sanctions. His page had become a key part of his propaganda machine. He often updated it with images of him cuddling or wrestling exotic animals, and threats to critics of the Kremlin. Before its closure, he had amassed more than 3 million followers.
“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,” explained Oleg Orlov, co-founder of Memorial.
Tensions between government and human rights organisations in the region have spiked recently. Magomed Daudov, the speaker of the Chechen parliament, recently blamed human rights activists for the US sanctions and the blocking of Kadyrov’s social media accounts, calling them “enemies of the people” before saying he would no longer allow them to operate in Chechnya.
Shortly after Oyub Titiev, the head of the human rights organisations was arrested after police claimed they found six ounces of marijuana in his car. When activists who questioned the charges started using the Ingushetia regional office as a base and were vocal about his arrest, the location was torched by two masked men.
The suggestion that all of this could be over an Instagram isn’t particularly far-fetched given that President Kadyrov’s previously responded to reports of gay concentration camps in the region by saying that gay people do not exist in Chechnya. He also recently dismissed coverage of his human rights abuse and attacked the worldwide press, saying the criticisms are intended to “plunge Chechnya into chaos”.