Burial services are being held in the North Caucasus republic of Ingushetia for the opposition website owner Magomed Yevloyev, who died of a bullet wound to the head sustained while in police custody.
Yevloyev, the owner of the website ingushetiya.ru, was killed shortly after being apprehended by police on the morning of August 31 as he stepped off a plane that had traveled to the Ingushetian capital of Nazran from Moscow.
Police escorted him into an armored Interior Ministry jeep and left the airport. Less than 30 minutes later, his body was dumped near a local hospital with a single bullet wound through the head. He died in hospital without having ever regained consciousness.
What happened in the interim is subject to speculation. Local government officials say Yevloyev was shot after trying to seize a weapon from one of the police officers. Russian prosecutors say they have opened a manslaughter investigation into the case, with an unnamed official telling Interfax the killing may be classified as "unplanned murder."
Yevloyev's supporters, however, suspect the shooting was no accident.
Magomed Mutsulgov, the director of Mashr, an Ingushetia-based nongovernmental organization, tells RFE/RL's Russian Service that the case must be thoroughly investigated and the guilty parties punished.
"How long can this go on -- to take a person off the plane openly, in the most brazen way, put him in a special vehicle, and 10 minutes later deliver him to a hospital with a head wound?" Mutsulgov asks.
"There is a lot of work here for the Investigative Committee and the Prosecutor's Office. But as a human rights defender and as a human being, I think this should be investigated by the Chief Investigative Directorate of the Prosecutor-General's Office," he adds. "In fact I think everyone who has any relation to the [interior] minister, I mean his security guards who were there, should be arrested, and the minister and [President Murat] Zyazikov should be dismissed from their positions, in my opinion."
Russian human rights groups and the Moscow branch of the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch have also called for a thorough investigation into the death of Yevloyev, the latest in a series of prominent journalists to be killed in Russia in recent years.
"We have no other conclusion than that it was a deliberate political murder, yet another one in the chain of terror inflicted by the state in North Caucasus -- not only in Ingushetia, but also in Chechnya and Daghestan," Oleg Orlov, chairman of the Russian human rights organization Memorial, told Reuters in Moscow.
"The opposition, not terrorists, but the opposition, people without arms, are trying to protest within the framework of the law. And how are they treated? With police batons, bullets above their heads, and now murder," he added. "You see, such actions lead to the total destabilization of the situation in Ingushetia, which is simply unwise."
Yevloyev was a prominent member of the political opposition in Ingushetia, and his website was considered one of the only windows to independent information in the repressive republic.
A former investigator in the Ingushetian Prosecutor's Office, Yevloyev was a staunch critic of Ingushetia's Kremlin-backed president, Zyazikov. His website had angered many in Zyazikov's camp with its reports on local and federal government corruption as well as police brutality.
Yevloyev's website had come under frequent government scrutiny. A judge in June ordered its closure on charges of spreading "extremist" statements.
Its main editor, Roza Malsagova, fled Russia the following month and sought political asylum in Europe, saying she and her family had been threatened by Ingushetian officials.
Ingushetiya.ru -- which remained online, in defiance of the court order -- on August 31 posted an appeal calling for the public to gather in Nazran to protest Yevloyev's death. The site has successfully organized large protests against President Zyazikov in the past.
Public unrest is sure to be worrisome for Zyazikov and the Kremlin, which have watched violence in the republic rise dangerously during the past several years.
Ingushetia, which borders Chechnya, is home to a simmering Islamic insurgency, with militants staging frequent attacks against local law enforcement and government authorities.
Critics say Zyazikov has exacerbated the situation by responding with the unlawful arrests, kidnapping, and even killing of suspected extremists.
Liz Fuller, an RFE/RL Caucasus expert, says Zyazikov, who is deeply unpopular in Ingushetia, will now be under even greater pressure to demonstrate to Moscow that he is capable of controlling his restive republic.
"Over the past 18 months or two years, Ingushetia has surpassed Chechnya to become far and away the most unstable and violent of the North Caucasus republics," Fuller says. "So this is a dangerous and combustible mix, and the death of Magomed Yevloyev is only going to increase tensions even further. Yesterday, one of the local leaders of the Ingush resistance said that he now thinks that Ingushetia has no choice but to try to secede from the Russian Federation. This will obviously compound Moscow's anger."
with agency reporting