Kidnapped Russian Journalist: No One Is Paying Attention

FATIMA TLISOVA: Whatever you investigate in the North Caucasus is going to caught the attention of the authorities because corruption is widespread. So wherever you turn, you're going to be in the center of the attention if you are trying to do your job properly as a journalist.

WERTHEIMER: That's Fatima Tlisova, an investigative reporter from Russia's North Caucasus region. During the 11 years she worked as a reporter there, she was repeatedly threatened and attacked. According to Human Rights Watch, the region is one of the most dangerous places for journalists in the world. Journalists are kidnapped and killed in broad daylight. Tlisova talks about that. Some of the content of this interview is disturbing.

In 2005, Fatmia Tlisova was kidnapped by people she believed were members of the FSB, Russia's Intelligence Agency. Since receiving asylum in the U.S. in 2007, she has testified before Congress on human rights and freedom of expression in Russia. She is our Sunday Conversation.

TLISOVA: I wasn't only kidnapped. I was - you can put it in the word tortured because they burn cigarettes on my fingertips. They have bitten me a lot. So it was a difficult time.

WERTHEIMER: When the security forces took you, how long did they hold you?

TLISOVA: Well, it's not just one separate event. I experienced this many, many times. Once I was officially detained - no accusation, just taken from the street. And they put me in the cage. I saw a human finger on the floor. The whole cage was so sticky. And there was no light. But I could smell the blood - the old blood. And the whole cage was made to terrify. And the time you asked about when I was kidnapped from the street and taken to the forest - they kept me for about eight hours.

WERTHEIMER: And that was the burning your fingertips with cigarettes and all of that.

TLISOVA: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

WERTHEIMER: And then they just brought you back?

TLISOVA: No. They left me there in the forest. They were waiting for some special orders, or I don't know. I think my fate was being decided by somebody on the top. And they decided me to let go. Later on somebody called me from the hidden number and told me say thanks to your Stas Diriv (ph). Stas Diriv was a politician and a very well-known businessman. I used to work with him as a press representative. And he - I don't know how he learned what he has done. But I think he saved my life at that time.

WERTHEIMER: How did you come to leave the region? I would think that you would want to be out of there. After those kinds of things have happened you would want to be out of there as soon as you possibly could get out of there.

TLISOVA: Well, actually, I never wanted to leave. I felt like leaving was a betrayal of all those people who continue suffer there. And I thought if I leave, it's going to send a signal. You know

WERTHEIMER: You can...

TLISOVA: So censorship is so high already. People are so scared to do their job. I was at the point where the question wasn't anymore about my own safety. It was my whole family - my parents, my children. Everywhere was suffering - the house searches. My kids always scared and witnessing all these horrible events happening to me. So there was kind of a decision made and difficult times. But, finally, we got here.

WERTHEIMER: So all of the people that the security forces were threatening got out?

TLISOVA: Well, if we are speaking about my family.

WERTHEIMER: About your immediate family, sure.

TLISOVA: Yeah. But there's 6 million people - the population of Massachusetts. Most of them still suffer. And the killings are going on every day on both sides. On the Russian side and - of course, the majority on the side of North Caucasus.

So imagine in Massachusetts in three years, you will lose 6,000 young people and nobody ever speaks about it - just a very few marginalized journalists. The whole Russia just doesn't care about it. And they care about people in Ukraine somehow. Russia's own citizens bombed, killed, harassed, living in terror, and no Russian cares about it.

WERTHEIMER: Fatima Tlisova is an investigative reporter from Russia's Caucasus, but she currently works as an editor at the Voice of America here in the Washington area. Thank you very much for coming in.

TLISOVA: Thank you.

Copyright © 2014 NPR.