A Siberian journalist was attacked and severely beaten by unknown assailants after investigating Ramzan Kadyrov’s infamous fight club, Akhmat MMA.
Appearing on Instagram with a bloodied face and injured arms, Andrei Afanasyev revealed that at least three assailants had attacked him outside his apartment in Blagoveshchensk, a city in the Amur Oblast that forms Russia’s border with China. Afanasyev, who works as a freelancer for Sibir.Realii, a regional affiliate of the U.S.-funded RFE/RL news outlet, claimed that he was beaten with “either a pipe or a piece of rebar” for his reporting on a local chapter of the Chechen dictator’s fight club. He was later diagnosed with a broken nose and added that both his arms were in “terrible pain.”
Afanasyev believes he was targeted for conducting an investigation into the local Akhmat MMA fight club. The journalist named local businessman and pro-Kremlin lawmaker Andrei Domashenkin as the founder of the Akhmat MMA fight club’s Amur region chapter. He also revealed that Domashenkin was detained along with three fighters from the gym in April on suspicion of extorting 8 million rubles (approx. $111,000) from a local businessman. When the businessman refused to comply, the Akhmat fight club members reportedly took the man to the forest and threatened him.
Afanasyev said in his Instagram video that he heard one of his assailants telling another to “report to Domik,” which he believes was a reference to Domashenkin’s last name. The journalist was also warned to “write less reports about decent people.”
Founded in 2015, the Akhmat MMA fight club consists of an MMA promotion and several training facilities throughout Chechnya and various other post-Soviet states. The fight club is sponsored by Kadyrov himself through his government’s budget and bears the name of Kadyrov’s father, Akhmad Kadyrov. Fighters who are signed to the fight club’s official roster are paid monthly stipends that cover medical expenses, training costs, and travel fees. Depending on the level of success achieved, fighters are also gifted with expensive cars and other incentives.
The Akhmat MMA fight club is operated by Abuzayed Vismuradov, a colonel considered to be one of the most powerful men in Chechnya. Known by his nom de guerre ‘Patriot’, Vismuradov once fought in the Chechen wars against Russia alongside Kadyrov himself, before being elevated to commander of Chechnya’s Special Forces, the ‘Terek’ Chechen SWAT unit, as well as Kadyrov’s private security detail. Kadyrov’s decision to place one of his most influential security figures in charge of his MMA promotion and fight club suggests that the Akhmat fight club is an extension of Kadyrov’s own government. It is also one of the reasons why the United States Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued sanctions against the Akhmat MMA fight club in December 2020.
This is not the first time that a journalist has been harmed for reporting on Kadyrov or his infamous fight club. Popular Chechen blogger Tumso Abdurakhmanov survived an attempt on his life when he fought off an assailant armed with a hammer. Two other Chechen dissidents had been murdered since August 2019, including a Chechen blogger who was stabbed repeatedly in the neck in a hotel room in Lillie, France. Another Chechen exile, Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, died after being shot in the head from behind in a Berlin park.
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