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CPJ outraged by ruling freeing Yevloyev’s killer in Russia

New York, March 2, 2010—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns today’s court decision to release Ibragim Yevloyev, the high-ranking security officer who shot and killed independent Ingush publisher Magomed Yevloyev (no relation to the killer) in police custody in August 2008.
Yevloyev (CJES)

In December 2009, with a “negligent homicide” conviction, the Karabulak City Court in Ingushetia sentenced the gunman to two years in a low-security prison settlement for the shooting. The family appealed to the Supreme Court of Ingushetia, asking that the case be reinvestigated to correct omissions and flaws in the initial probe. Instead, Ingushetia’s Supreme Court replaced the gunman’s sentence today with a two-year “restriction of freedom” term. Neither the killer nor Yevloyev’s family were present in court today.

“It is outrageous that the killer of Magomed Yevloyev has been freed from jail,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “With today’s ruling, the Supreme Court of Ingushetia is fueling impunity for those who kill journalists—an endemic problem for Russia. We call on Russia’s Supreme Court to reverse this dangerous decision.”

The “restriction of freedom” provision is a relatively new penalty in the Russian criminal code; Article 53 of the penalties was amended on December 27, 2009, and came into force on January 10. According to the provision, the convicted are given a curfew after which they must not leave their home; are forbidden to leave town; are banned from attending mass gatherings; and are not allowed to change their address and work place without permission from the penitentiary service in their place of residence.

The 37-year-old Yevloyev was a well-known critic of the policies of then-Ingushetia President Murat Zyazikov and his government. Through his Web site, Ingushetiya (which was forced to change domain several times after politicized courts ordered that it be shut down), Yevloyev exposed high-level regional corruption.

On August 31, 2008, guards of then-Ingushetia Interior Minister Musa Medov arrested the journalist without a warrant shortly after his Moscow-Ingushetia flight landed at Magas airport. Yevloyev was on the same flight as President Zyazikov and the two had reportedly argued aboard the plane. On the way to Ingushetia’s largest city, Nazran, one of the arresting officers, Minister Medov’s nephew Ibragim Yevloyev shot and killed the publisher.

Within hours of the killing, Ingushetia and Moscow authorities sided with the shooter’s account, and declared that the publisher had been killed accidentally after he tried to seize a gun from one of three officers.

Case documents obtained by CPJ indicate that investigators interviewed the gunman the day of the shooting. In his statement, Ibragim Yevloyev said the journalist suddenly struggled with another officer, then abruptly leaned to the side and hit his gun, which accidentally fired. A forensic analysis dated September 15, 2008, showed the journalist had been shot at point-blank range in his temple.

Minister Medov told investigators that his nephew and the other two unidentified officers had been ordered by the Interior Ministry to leave the region, the case records show.

Ibragim Yevloyev, who was reassigned to Moscow, did not attend any of the court proceedings on his negligent homicide charge. The other two officers present at the crime scene were questioned only from behind a closed door, their identities kept secret. According to the lawyers for Yakhya Yevloyev, the publisher’s father and a key plaintiff in the case, the two gave conflicting accounts.

Several months after the killing, an Interior Ministry investigator acknowledged in a letter to the new Ingushetia president, Yunus-bek Yevkurov, that he had signed the arrest warrant for Magomed Yevloyev after the journalist had already been detained and shot, the business daily Kommersant reported in February 2009. This information—which points to an official cover-up—has had no follow-up.

“This court decision constitutes full rehabilitation for my son’s killer,” Yakhya Yevloyev told CPJ today. “We find it absurd that he is allowed to move freely.” He added that today’s ruling leaves unclear the mechanism through which Ibragim Yevloyev’s compliance with the new verdict will be ensured.

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