Protesters, journalists, rights activists beaten and detained in Nazran

OMON (Russian Special Purpose Police Squad) riot police broke up a demonstration against the administration of Ingushetia’s President, Murat Zyazikov, in Nazran on November 24. The organizing committee for the protest, which was planned for November 24, had earlier announced that it would be postponed until December-citing, among other things, requests from high-level officials in Moscow that the protest not take place before the December 2 State Duma elections (Chechnya Weekly, November 21). Magomed Yevloev, head of the independent Ingushetiya.ru website, however, told the Izbrannoe.ru website in an interview published on November 26 that one member of the organizing committee, Mukhammed Gazdiev,a resident of Karabulak,who is missing both his arms and whose son, Ibragim Gazdiev, was kidnapped by security forces this past summer and subsequently killed (Chechnya Weekly, August 9)-did not want to postpone the protest and took charge of ensuring that it would be held on November 24. Kavkazky Uzel reported on November 23 that Gazdiev and several members of his family had been detained and taken to the Ingushetian Interior Ministry, with the apparent aim of convincing him not to hold the protest. However, he was released and protesters did gather in Nazran on November 24. 

Newsru.com reported on November 24 that the square in front of the government administration building in Nazran where the protest was supposed to take place was blockaded by police, and so a group of demonstrators gathered near the city’s bus station. Newsru.com on November 24 quoted Memorial head Oleg Orlov-who was kidnapped and beaten in Nazran the night before the protest, apparently by security forces-as saying that the protesters numbered 150 to 300. Magomed Yevloev of Ingushetiya.ru put the number at 300 to 500. Aleksandr Cherkasov of the Memorial Human Right Group wrote on the Yezhednevny Zhurnal website (Ej.ru) on November 27 that dozens of local and federal “siloviki, ” both local and federal, who were on hand in Nazran on November 24 were unable to handle the situation and so “reinforcements” were called in. According to Cherkasov, the additional forces, numbering around 200 men-mostly local OMON and GOVD (police), but also including a “noticeable number” of police assigned to Ingushetia from other regions-arrived at the scene in three armored Ural vehicles, several buses and an armored personnel carrier with a flag of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party on its turret. According to Magomed Yevloev, among those involved in breaking up the demonstration was President Zyazikov’s bodyguard unit and Nazran’s mayor, Magomed Tsechoev, along with his sons. Yevloev reported that Tsechoev, who “probably wanted to demonstrate his loyalty to Zyazikov,” was roughed up in a fight.

 

It should be noted that REN-TV reported on November 23, the day before the demonstration, that the head of the Nazran police department (GOVD), Vakha Aushev, resigned in protest after receiving orders to use force to prevent the demonstration planned for the following day from taking place. An anonymous official in Ingushetia’s Interior Ministry, however, told Interfax on November 23 that the report about Aushev resigning in protest was false.

 

Ingusheitya.ru reported that OMON fired warning shots in the air and that protesters threw stones and eggs at them. The leader of the Naslediye (Heritage) youth organization, Kaloi Akhilgov, told Ekho Moskvy radio on November 24 that OMON beat protesters with truncheons and used “electro-shockers.” Akhilgov was himself detained. According to Aleksandr Cherkasov, the security forces went into the crowd and detained Mukhammed Gazdiev, the handicapped Karabulak resident who organized the protest. Ingushetiya.ru’s Magomed Yevloev said that at some point security forces opened fired and three Nazran residents received gunshot wounds. “They were taken to the hospital, and a while later, police came for them there,” Yevloev told Izbrannoe.ru. “A fight took place in the hospital between the police and relatives of the wounded, and the relatives managed to snatch away the wounded and take them home.” According to Yevloev, there were also rumors that a Nazran resident named Akhmed Pliev was shot at point-blank range and killed, but it turned out he was only shot with rubber bullets. Yevloev reported that Pliev was also taken to the hospital but was seized there by security forces and his whereabouts remain unknown.

 

Kavkazky Uzel reported on November 25 that during the protest, two riot police beat a 15-year-old boy with their truncheons and continued to beat him after he lost consciousness. The website reported that riot police threatened its correspondent who was at the demonstration, ordering him not to photograph what was happening.

 

Magomed Yevloev told Izbrannoe.ru that 350 to 370 people were detained during the November 24 protest in Nazran, all but 20 to 30 of whom were released the following day. According to Yevloev, the police did not fill out any official documents concerning the detentions, apparently in order to prevent details about the demonstration-including the number of people involved-from becoming public knowledge.

 

At just past midnight on November 24-that is, the night before the protest-five armed men wearing masks and camouflage seized Memorial’s Oleg Orlov and three REN-TV journalists-Artyom Vysotsky, Karen Sakhinov and Stanislav Goryachikh-from Nazran’s Assa hotel and forced them into a minivan without license plates. Several of those seized were taken in their underwear and in bare feet. Aleksandr Cherkasov of Memorial Human Rights Group quoted Orlov as saying that the raiders, who identified themselves as being members of an “anti-terrorist” unit, drove them out to a remote area, where one of their captors gave the order: “Take them out of the car one by one. Liquidate them with a silencer.” The abductors did not, however, shoot the captives, but beat them-according to Orlov, Visotsky and Goryachikh were severely beaten. The abductors then drove away after ordering their victims to lie on the ground and stay there or risk being shot. Orlov said that after their abductors had left, he, Visotsky, Goryachikh and Sakhinov began walking and ended up in the village of Nesterovskaya, where they went to the local police station. From there, they were transferred to police headquarters in Nazraon. Orlov said he was released by noon November 24, but that the REN-TV crew was held until late that afternoon and that the police apparently wanted to prevent it from covering the protest in Nazran.

 

Aleksandr Cherkasov of the Memorial Human Right Group wrote on the Yezhednevny Zhurnal website (Ej.ru) on November 27 that Ingushetia’s president, Murat Zyazikov, together with the republic’s prosecutor and Interior Minister, met with the three REN-TV journalists on the evening of November 24 and Zyazikov ordered the Interior Minister to investigate the kidnapping and provide the journalists with bodyguards. While a criminal investigation was launched into crimes committed in connection with the incident, including a law prohibiting officials from using their positions to interfere with the “lawful professional activities” of journalists, kidnapping was not listed among the crimes committed against the journalists. Indeed, Ingushetia’s Interior Ministry denied the journalists had been abducted and beaten, calling the claims “a provocation and a dirty insinuation by those who want to destabilize the situation and receive political dividends on the eve of elections,” the Moscow Times reported on November 26.

 

Ingushetiya.ru, citing an unnamed source in Ingushetia’s Interior Ministry, reported on November 25 that the abduction and beating of the three REN-TV journalists and Memorial Human Right Group’s Oleg Orlov was carried out by members of President Zyazikov’s bodyguard unit.

 

The event that originally precipitated the call for the protest in Nazran was the death of a 6-year-old boy who was shot dead during a special operation by security forces in the village of Chemulga, located in Ingushetia’s Sunzha district (Chechnya Weekly, November 15). In addition, as Kavkazky Uzel noted on November 23, according to Bamatgirei Mankiev, a deputy in Ingushetia’s People’s Assembly who is also a member of a commission investigating disappearances and murder in the republic, 157 people have been abducted in Ingushetia during the last several years and remain unaccounted for. According to Mankiev, more than 500 people have been murdered.

 

Kavkazky Uzel on November 25 quoted Ingushetiya.ru as saying that the severe beatings of protesters in Nazran, including young people, had aroused “a storm of indignation” among Ingush youth and would increase the influence of the republic’s armed rebels.

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