The Republic of Ingushetia authorities have launched what appears to be a clumsy attempt to compromise oppositionist Magomed Khazbiyev and members of his family in a bid to curtail his political activities.
Khazbiyev’s father and two of his brothers were taken into custody late on January 25 on suspicion of having stolen a Toyota Land Cruiser in Rostov-na-Donu three days earlier. A search of their family home reportedly yielded a weapon and unspecified “evidence” of the theft of the vehicle, which was “found” at another location.
A separate search of Khazbiyev’s home by “dozens” of police under the supervision of Magomed Bekov, deputy head of the republic of Ingushetia Interior Ministry’s Counter-Extremism Center, yielded a grenade, a pistol and ammunition that Khazbiyev, who was absent at the time, says were planted there.
Khazbiyev’s associates attributed the search of his home to suspicions that he was behind a spontaneous meeting on January 23 at the mosque in Nasyr-Kort to protest caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad. But Khazbiyev denies either organizing or participating in that meeting. He says he received orders late on January 22 to report at 0930 local time the following morning to the Counter-Extremism Center, and duly did so; he was held there for several hours before being released.
Khazbiyev, who has been detained for administrative offenses several times over the past six years, denounced the police actions as politically motivated and undertaken on orders from Republic of Ingushetia head Yunus-Bek Yevkurov. In a January 26 Instagram post, he affirmed his readiness to meet the following day at Magas airport with “the enemies of my people” to answer their questions.
Magas airport is where Magomed Yevloyev, a Moscow-based businessman who owned the opposition website www.ingushetiya.ru, was apprehended by Interior Ministry personnel on August 31, 2008. He died hours later after being shot in the head at close range.
Articulate and apparently fearless, Khazbiyev, 35, has played a leading role in politics in Ingushetia since early 2008, when he took over as head of a committee that planned a mass protest (subsequently postponed several times) against then republican President Murat Zyazikov. Later that year, he helped organize a petition, which some 80,000 people of a total population of 480,000 signed, calling for Zyazikov’s replacement by former President Ruslan Aushev.
That campaign finally yielded results. In late October 2008, just one month after Khazbiyev met with then human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin to brief him on the hundreds of abductions and extra-judicial killings carried out with impunity by police and security personnel since Zyazikov’s election in 2002, then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev dismissed Zyazikov and appointed as his successor former military intelligence officer Yunus-Bek Yevkurov.
Yevkurov made a point of meeting with opposition representatives, who initially nursed hopes that he would put an end to the corruption and egregious human rights abuses that characterized Zyazikov’s tenure as president. But Yevkurov proved both incapable of kick-starting the republic’s stagnating economy, and either unwilling or unable to put an end to blatant corruption and embezzlement on the part of his entourage and some members of his immediate family.
And after the June 2009 assassination attempt in which Yevkurov was seriously injured, the republican authorities closed ranks against Khazbiyev, who sought unsuccessfully to convene a Congress of the Ingush People to alert Moscow to the fact that “Ingushetia is ablaze,” and engulfed in “civil war.”At the same time, Khazbiyev launched a new opposition website, to continue Yevloyev’s work of providing uncensored information about the situation in Ingushetia.
Since then, Khazbiyev and his brothers have repeatedly been the target of official harassment and reprisals. In the spring of 2010, he and his brothers Makhmud, Ali , and Berd were summoned for questioning by the Interior Ministry after Yevkurov’s press secretary Kaloy Akhilgov was attacked on the street and beaten up.
One year later, Khazbiyev was abducted by armed masked men during a spontaneous protest demonstration in Nazran and sentenced to 10 days’ administrative detention. Then in October 2012, Khazbiyev was sentenced to 15 days’ administrative arrest following a standoff with police in the parking lot of a Nazran hospital.
Undeterred by those experiences, Khazbiyev continued his political engagement, although over the past couple of years he has concentrated less on seeking to engineer Yevkurov’s dismissal and more on his role as chairman of the regional chapter of the Republican Party of Russia -- Party of National Freedom (PARNAS).
In December 2013, Khazbiyev travelled to Kyiv to participate in the Maidan protests against then Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. When the Republic of Ingushetia Security Council pressured his father to order him to return home, Khazbiyev responded with a post on his Facebook page to the effect that “there is no point in [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s slaves hassling my parents, if you want to stop me you have only one possibility, and that is to kill me the way you killed Magomed Yevloyev and Maksharip Aushev,” a respected public figure whose murder in October 2009 has never been solved. He was not related to former President Ruslan Aushev.
What served as the catalyst for the attempt to implicate Khazbiyev and his father and brothers in the theft of a car is not immediately clear. Khazbiyev himself pointed out that it was incongruous that the republic’s Counter-Extremism Center should have been called on to investigate a suspected routine criminal offense. The Russian daily “Kommersant” suggests the alleged car theft may herald an attempt to jail Khazbiyev.
One factor that may have tipped the balance is Khazbiyev’s tactical rapprochement with two figures whom Yevkurov counts among his worst enemies: Khamzat Chumakov, imam of the Nasyr-Kort mosque, and Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov.
-- Liz Fuller