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Website Owner's Death Could Prove Point Of No Return For Ingushetia

  • Liz Fuller

Magomed Yevloyev, undated

Magomed Yevloyev, undated

Magomed Yevloyev, the controversial owner of the outspoken opposition website ingushetiya.ru, died on August 31 in a hospital of a gunshot wound to the head, just hours after Interior Ministry personnel detained him as he disembarked in Nazran from a plane from Moscow on his first visit for several years.

His death will inevitably compound the alienation between the republic's estimated population of 480,000 and the leadership of President Murat Zyazikov, which ingushetiya.ru has consistently criticized as corrupt, duplicitous, unable to reverse economic stagnation, and indifferent to social problems.

Yevloyev was born in 1971 in Malgobek, in the then-Checheno-Ingush ASSR. After graduating in 1992 from the Saratov Institute of Law, he worked from 1993-99 in the Ingushetian Prosecutor-General's Office and personally secured the release in 1999 of the abducted brother of leading LUKoil official Musa Keligov. In 2001, Yevloyev went into private business, and established ingushetiya.ru the following year.

Initially, ingushetiya.ru focused on the aftermath of the 1992 conflict over Ingushetia's territorial claim on the Prigorodny district of neighboring North Ossetia, a conflict in which over 600 people died and thousands of Ingush were forced to flee their homes. Many of them still live in temporary accommodation; ingushetiya.ru has systematically chronicled, and expressed unequivocal support for, their efforts to persuade the Russian leadership to allow them to return home.

In recent years, however, the website has switched its focus to criticizing former Federal Security Service Colonel Zyazikov, who in April 2002 was elected president to succeed Afghan war hero Ruslan Aushev. The heavy-handed efforts by police and security officials under Zyazikov to quash suspected Islamic radicalism by abducting young men considered suspect triggered attacks in June 2004 on police and security facilities across Ingushetia in which over 80 people died.

Since then, and especially over the past two years, the security situation has deteriorated to the point that Ingushetia is by far the most unstable region of the North Caucasus. The Islamic resistance targets police, government officials, and members of the official clergy on a daily basis; police and security forces retaliate by abducting or shooting dead on the street young men known to be devout Muslims. Meanwhile, Zyazikov continues to bombard Moscow with unending reports of new economic successes, including the construction of thousands of nonexistent apartments.

Public anger and resentment has increased exponentially since the Ingushetian leadership blatantly falsified first the outcome of the December 2007 elections to the Russian State Duma, and then the results of the Russian presidential election and simultaneous elections to a new Ingushetian parliament in March 2008. Ingushetiya.ru went so far as to post prior to the ballot a list of the deputies whom Zyazikov had allegedly hand-picked for "election."
Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov

In the wake of the December ballot, in which the authorities claimed that 98 percent of the electorate participated, the website launched a campaign to collect signatures from voters who formally denied having cast ballots. And in April 2008, ingushetiya.ru launched a new campaign, collecting signatures to a petition demanding Zyazikov's dismissal and the return of Aushev as republic head. Over 80,000 signatures in support of that demand were delivered to the Kremlin in early August.

Closing Ingushetiya.ru

Long before then, however, the authorities sought to force the website to close down. In August 2007, the Prosecutor's Office in North Ossetia requested that it be closed for inciting interethnic hatred, a request that the Russian Supreme Court rejected. In the fall of 2007, the website's chief editor, Roza Malsagova, stepped down under pressure; she recently received political asylum in France, but vowed to continue the website's work. In spring 2008, the Ingushetian authorities coerced Yevloyev's father to demand that Magomed close the website, which he refused to do. Then in June, a Moscow district court formally banned the website; the Moscow City Court upheld that ban in early August, but the site continued to function.

In a statement posted on August 22, Yevloyev accused Zyazikov, together with Ingushetian Interior Minister Musa Medov, of unleashing a "civil war against the Ingushetian people" in which hundreds of innocent people have died. Yevloyev further affirmed that "all attempts undertaken by Murat Zyazikov and Musa Medov to intimidate myself and my friends are futile."

Yevloyev was taken into custody by police after landing at Manas Airport on August 31. Official reports claim he was fatally shot by accident while being driven to Interior Ministry headquarters. As of August 31, both ingushetiya.ru and its backup site ingushetia.org have been inaccessible.

Public response to Yevloyev's death has been muted: only a few hundred people are reported to have attended his funeral and a subsequent protest meeting in Nazran to demand Zyazikov's resignation.

The hardcore opposition, however, remains defiant. Magomed Khazbiyev, who heads an informal committee that has planned repeated anti-Zyazikov protests, was quoted by the Chechen resistance website chechenpress.info on August 31 as saying the opposition will now consider requesting that the international community "detach" Ingushetia from the Russian Federation.

Doing so would, however, demolish any remaining hope of Ingushetia regaining jurisdiction over Prigorodny Raion. And it would be further complicated by the fact that when the Chechen-Ingush ASSR split into two in 1992, the border between Chechnya and Ingushetia was never formally demarcated.

Paradoxically, Yevloyev's killing presents Russian President Dmitry Medvedev with a golden opportunity to reverse the damage to his image resulting from Russia's military incursion into South Ossetia last month: he could fire Medov and Zyazikov, and appoint Aushev to prevent the instability in Ingushetia spiraling out of control. Aushev has not commented publicly on Yevloyev's death.
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