NAZRAN, Russia (Reuters) – Police in the Russian region of Ingushetia used batons to break up an anti-government protest on Tuesday, a human rights campaigner said, two days after police shot dead an opposition leader.
The killing was an “assassination” intended to halt dissent, Europe’s top human rights and security group, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said in a statement.
Ingushetia lies next to Chechnya and North Ossetia at the heart of Russia’s turbulent north Caucasus. Bombings, killings and police crackdowns have gripped Ingushetia over the last 12 months and analysts say the instability could spread.
The protest started during the funeral of Magomed Yevloyev, owner of the opposition website www.ingushetiya.ru , who died on Sunday after being shot while in police custody.
Magomed Mutsolgov from the Ingushetia-based human rights group Mashr said police arrived at around 5:30 a.m. (0130 GMT) to disperse a crowd of around 50 men who had been sleeping in the main square in Nazran, Ingushetia’s biggest city.
Police and military vehicles were then deployed to block access to the main square, he said.
Protest organizers later vowed to try to force their way back into the square on Tuesday.
But an Ingushetia Interior Ministry press official denied the police had forced the demonstrators to leave and insisted they had left peacefully. “We didn’t even have to make any arrests,” the official said.
Yevloyev died in police custody on Sunday from a gunshot wound. Police said he was shot after lunging for an officer’s gun but his supporters and human rights groups said they do not believe that explanation.
The authorities have tried this year to close the site — one of the few unofficial sources of information.
Yevloyev is the most high-profile Russian journalist to be killed since assassins shot investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya at her Moscow apartment in October 2006.
The media freedoms monitor of the 56-nation OSCE, to which Russia belongs, said the killing was part of “an orchestrated campaign to silence the only critical voice in the region”.
“This assassination represents a further deterioration of media freedom in Russia,” Miklos Haraszti said in a statement.
“Russia should live up to its OSCE commitments and support — rather than repress — free debate, free reporting and media pluralism.”
In July, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists described Ingushetia as “a lawless zone where enemies of the press can attack journalists with impunity”.