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Verdict in Ingushetia editor’s killing a miscarriage of justice

Yevloyev (CJES)New York, December 11, 2009—A Russian police officer who fatally shot an online publisher in government custody in 2008 was convicted of negligent homicide and sentenced to two years in a low-security prison settlement today, Reuters and other news agencies reported. The family of the victim, Magomed Yevloyev, told CPJ they would appeal the verdict because their own investigation showed that the officer purposely shot the editor.

Yevloyev, 37, was publisher of the independent news Web site Ingushetiya, which had heavily criticized authorities in the restive republic of Ingushetia. Yevloyev was shot in the head in August 2008, shortly after Interior Ministry officers detained him at the Magas airport and placed him in a police vehicle headed to Nazran.


The Interior Ministry immediately declared the shooting an accident. Officials alleged that Yevloyev had tried to grab a gun from one of three officers in the police vehicle, causing a second officer’s gun to fire accidentally. The fatal shot was fired by officer Ibragim Yevloyev, nephew of then-Ingushetia Interior Minister Musa Medov.


Ibragim Yevloyev, who is not related to the victim, did not attend today’s hearing in Karabulak City Court, which was denounced as a miscarriage of justice by the victim’s family and legal representatives. “There was no justice served today in court,” Magomed Gandaur-Egi, a lawyer for the victim’s family, told CPJ. The victim’s father, Yakhya, told the news agency Interfax that “it was not an accident but a deliberate, planned, and organized murder.”


CPJ urged the appellate court to order a new investigation. “President Dmitry Medvedev’s promise to solve journalists’ murders in Russia rings hollow after this verdict,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “The Supreme Court of Ingushetia must overturn this ruling on appeal and launch a credible and thorough investigation into the killing of Magomed Yevloyev.”


The official account of the shooting is riddled with questions and discrepancies, CPJ research shows. The Ingushetia Supreme Court ruled in January that the editor was detained illegally. Interior Ministry officers had no warrant for Magomed Yevloyev’s arrest at the time they took him into custody; an officer later acknowledged that he fabricated a warrant after the shooting had occurred.

 

Officers detained Magomed Yevloyev moments after his flight from Moscow had landed. The editor had shared the flight with Ingushetia President Murat Zyazikov, and the two had reportedly argued on the way. Ingushetiya, one of the few independent news sources in the tightly controlled republic, had reported on government corruption, human rights abuses, and a string of unsolved disappearances. It had also called for Zyazikov’s resignation.


About 20 of the journalist’s friends and colleagues had been awaiting his arrival at the airport and had witnessed the initial detention, according to CPJ interviews. One of them, Magomed Khazbiyev, told CPJ in 2008 that Yevloyev was not handcuffed and did not resist arrest. Khazbiyev and others said they had tried to follow a police convoy but the vehicle carrying the publisher took evasive action.


Investigators failed to take a statement from Medov, the top Interior Ministry official, who was at the airport when the plane arrived and who reportedly approved the arrest, according to CPJ interviews. Medov did not appear during court proceedings, and has not responded to CPJ inquiries.

Numerous other irregularities occurred from investigation through trial, said Gandaur-Egi, the lawyer for the victim’s family. After the Interior Ministry cleared its own officer, he said, top investigators in Moscow rubber-stamped the finding within weeks. “Within hours after the murder, Medov issued a report that said Magomed Yevloyev was killed by negligence. The Investigative Committee accepted this document without questioning,” Gandaur-Egi told CPJ. 

 

Gandaur-Egi said investigators did not provide the victim’s family with timely access and information as required by law. Neither he nor the victim’s family was invited to the crime scene re-enactment, he said, and they were not allowed to question the defendant in court. Authorities failed to look into the disappearance of cash and a laptop that the publisher was carrying when he was killed, he said. 

 

Gandaur-Egi said the two other officers present in the police vehicle at the time of the shooting could not provide a detailed description in court, saying they had forgotten the particulars due to stress. One important witness did not testify at all in court: Dzhanbolat Shankhoyev, a Nazran-based officer. He had acknowledged in a public statement in February that he had prepared a warrant for Yevloyev after the journalist had already been detained and shot, the independent business weekly Kommersant reported.

 

An officer who conducted an internal investigation did testify, Gandaur-Egi said. Officer Salman Belkharoyev testified that Medov had pressured him to call the shooting justified, the lawyer said.

 

Zyazikov resigned as president in October 2008 and was subsequently named an adviser to President Dmitry Medvedev. Medov was reassigned within the Interior Ministry, according to news reports. Ingushetiya continues to publish. In the months before the killing, authorities had filed more than a dozen lawsuits seeking to close the Web site. The same month that Yevloyev was shot, the site’s top editor had fled the country in the face of continuing threats.


CPJ research shows 19 journalists have been murdered in retaliation for their work in Russia since 2000. In September, CPJ published an investigative report covering 17 cases, including Yevloyev.


Editor's note: The original text of this alert was modified in paragraph 11 to correct that it was a laptop, not a notebook, that went missing. 

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