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Russian journalist Elena Milashina, center, with Michelle Obama, then first lady, and John Kerry, then secretary of state, in 2013.Credit…Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press

A Russian investigative journalist and a lawyer were severely beaten on Tuesday in the Chechnya region of southern Russia in an attack that was notable for its brutality in a country accustomed to constant restrictions on freedom of speech.

Elena Milashina, journalist of Novaya Gazeta who discovery torture and killing of gay men in Chechnya, was in Grozny, the Chechen capital, to cover the trial of Zarema Musayeva, the mother of exiled opposition activists, according to the newspaper. Ms Milashina and the lawyer, Alexander Nemov, who represents Ms Musayeva, were blocked by cars as they drove through the city, according to Novaya Gazeta.

Masked men beat them with clubs, then took their phones and asked them to unlock them, the newspaper said in a statement. Equipment and documents were also destroyed.

Ms. Milashina suffered brain injuries, her fingers were broken and she repeatedly lost consciousness, the statement added. Her attackers also doused her with liquid iodine, in an apparent attempt to stop her from appearing in public. Mr. Nemov was stabbed in the leg, she said.

A photo released by the newspaper with Ms Milashina’s permission showed the journalist sitting on a hospital stretcher in Grozny with her hands bound up to the wrists and most of her hair shaved off.

The Committee Against Torture released a photo of Elena Milashina, covered in liquid iodine, in a hospital in Grozny on Tuesday.Credit…The Committee Against Torture, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“It was a classic kidnapping,” Ms. Milashina said from the stretcher in a short video posted on social media. “It’s just that things like this haven’t happened in a while.”

Another video showed Ms. Milashina fainting in the hospital corridor in the neighboring region of North Ossetia, after being evacuated from Chechnya.

The Reporters Without Borders group, which supports press freedom and follows the violence against journalists, She said who was “horrified by the savage attack” on Ms Milashina on Tuesday. Six journalists of the independent Novaya Gazeta have been killed in its three decades of existence. The publication’s editor, Dmitri A. Muratov, was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 2021. The newspaper suspended publication in Russia after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine that began in February 2022 due to censorship laws in wartime, but some of its journalists continued to work in exile.

In early 2022, Ms Musayeva was taken from her apartment building in central Russia, shoved into a black SUV and driven to Chechnya. Ms Musayeva’s abduction was widely seen as part of a hunt for two of her sons, Abubakar and Ibragim Yangulbayev, prominent government critics who had infuriated Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya’s autocratic leader.

Mr Kadyrov had previously called Ms Milashina a “terrorist accomplice” for her cover-up of the Yangulbayev family.

The severity of the beatings, for which the authorities have not named suspects, prompted a rare reaction from Russian officials.

A senior lawyer for the ruling United Russia party, Andrei Klishas, ​​has called for an investigation, and the Kremlin said the government’s human rights ombudsman had contacted the prosecutor’s office about the attack. .

Kremlin spokesman Dmitri S. Peskov added that President Vladimir V. Putin had been informed of Ms. Milashina’s status. “We’re talking about a very serious attack that requires quite vigorous measures,” he said in his daily news conference on Tuesday.

Peskov’s rare acknowledgment of this case of human rights violations in Russia indicates the complexity of the government’s relationship with Kadyrov.

Putin has long relied on the Chechen leader’s government to maintain control of the restive Muslim-majority region. Kadyrov has also become an important ally of the Kremlin in Ukraine, sending thousands of Chechen paramilitaries into Russian-occupied territories.

However, ultra-nationalist factions in Putin’s alliance have implied that the Kremlin has entrusted security in Chechnya to Kadyrov and his forces, and see this as a sign of weakness.

Milana Mazaeva contributed report.