Roza Malsagova, the editor of the Ingushetiya.ru website, Ingushetia’s only source of independent news and information, has just lost an ally in her struggle against the government’s determination to suppress all coverage of human rights abuses in this southern Russian republic, which adjoins Chechnya and which is contaminated by the region’s conflicts.
According to a press release from the Reporters Without Borders, forwarded to UNIAN, Magomed Yevloyev, the site’s owner and a government opponent, was murdered while held by the security forces in the new capital, Magas, on 31 August. He was arrested by interior ministry officials who were waiting for him as he disembarked from a plane at Magas airport. He managed to call Malsagova and tell her: “Roza, they are taking me away.” He was found dead a few hours later (http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=28358).
The authorities say his death was an accident, that he was killed when he tried to grab a gun from one of the policemen and it went off. A criminal investigation is under way into the possibility that his death was a case of “murder through negligence.”
Malsagova, who fled to France with her three children seeking political asylum a few weeks ago, is convinced the authorities are lying. “This is a political murder that was masterminded by President Murat Zyazikov,” she told Reporters Without Borders.
Since exchanging those last few words with Yevloyev,” she says she no longer sees “any way forward.” The two had met in Paris on 26 August to discuss the future. Ingushetiya.ru is the only local website covering the unrest and violence in Ingushetia, but a Russian court ruled in June that access to the site should be blocked because of its “extremist” content.
As the website’s owner and editor, Yevloyev and Malsagova were also being prosecuted, while contributors to the site who are still in Russia are threatened. Some have gone into hiding or keep changing their place of residence. Although he knew he was in danger, Yevloyev decided to make a brief trip to Ingushetia. President Zyazikov happened to be on the plane that he took from Moscow to Magas, and according to an unconfirmed report, they got into an argument during the flight.
As Yevloyev was being buried on 1 September, a street protest was launched at the request of Magomed Khazbiyev, one of the opposition leaders, to demand the president’s resignation and an impartial investigation into Yevloyev’s death. Special troops dispersed the demonstration the following morning.
Around 20 people including Malsagova demonstrated outside the Russian embassy in Paris yesterday to press the authorities to shed light on Yevloyev’s death and all the other violence taking place in Ingushetia. The protesters asked to speak embassy officials, who said it would not be possible today but suggested they ask again another day.
Ingushetiya.ru was founded in 2001 with the support of Zyazikov, a former KGB general. But all links between Zyazikov and the website’s staff were severed after he became president in April 2002 and gradually began to systematically crack down on all those who challenged his rule.
Financed by Yevloyev, the site continued to post reports about disappearances in Ingushetia and photos of the places were civilians kidnapped by the Russia army were held or executed. In an attempt to combat Ingushetiya.ru’s reports, Zyazikov created a pro-government website in March of this year with a very similar web address: http://ingushetiyaru.net.
Ingush ISPs were ordered to block access to Ingushetiya.ru in April, as a result of which the website’s journalists began publishing their articles in leaflets that were distributed on the streets of Nazran, the former capital. In July, they obtained a list of members of the FSB (the successor to the KGB), who were allegedly involved in the disappearances of civilians. After the list was published, Yevloyev was threatened and Malsagova’s phone was tapped. The site was definitively blocked on the order of a Russian court order on 12 August.
Ingushetia’s civilian population is paying a high price for Zyazikov’s attempts to put down an ongoing Islamist rebellion. The threat of reprisals is used to ensure that nothing is said about the kidnappings, summary executions and torture. With anti-terrorist operations, bombings and raids by unidentified armed groups, the horrors taking place in Ingushetia are comparable to the worst moments of the war in Chechnya.