Television crew attacked in Ingushetia

New York, November 26, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on authorities in the southern Russian republic of Ingushetia to immediately launch an investigation to find all those responsible for a vicious attack on three television journalists and a prominent human rights advocate in the early hours on Saturday.

Artyom Vysotsky, Stanislav Goryachikh, and Karen Sakhinov of the Moscow-based channel REN-TV and Oleg Orlov, head of the rights defense group Memorial, were in Ingushetia’s regional capital, Nazran, to cover the political and human rights climate in the republic in the eve of parliamentary elections scheduled for December 2, when they were assaulted.

“We are stunned by this brazen attack against journalists designed to stifle coverage of political protest,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We are baffled by the reaction of local officials, who have blamed the attack on unidentified ‘destructive forces.’ We call on prosecutors to thoroughly follow every lead, including the possibility that security forces could be involved in the attack.”

On Saturday, a group of about 15 armed, masked men in camouflage gear stormed two hotel rooms at the Assa hotel in Nazran—Orlov’s and Sakhinov’s, according to local press reports. Sakhinov, Vysotsky and Goryachikh had gathered to strategize about their coverage of a protest demonstration that was to take place on Saturday in Nazran. The four were ordered to lie on the floor and not move; the attackers put black plastic bags on their heads; asked them who they were and what they were doing in Ingushetia; took all their belongings, including video cameras, laptops, mobile phones, and personal documents; and put them in a van, Memorial reported.

A man told Orlov that he was with the local department that combats organized crime, and that the group was following up on a tip that someone had brought explosives to the hotel, the independent business daily Kommersant reported. They said the men demanded to know which of them “brought the explosives.”

After placing them in a van, the men drove the journalists and activist to what they later discovered was a deserted field close to the border with Chechnya. Before ordering the four out of the vehicle, one attacker said: “Take them out one by one! Liquidate them with a silencer!” Memorial reported. The assailants beat the four; Vysotsky lost consciousness.

Before driving off, the attackers ordered the journalists and the rights activist to never return to Ingushetia. They had to walk—all in light clothing, two barefoot—through a snow-covered field for about 30 minutes, before reaching the village of Nesterovskaya, on the Chechen border, where they gave their first report of the attack to the police, local news reports said.

The local police denied any involvement. Ingushetia President Murat Zyazikov apologized to the journalists, saying they had become victims of “destructive forces,” whom he did not identify, Kommersant reported.

On Saturday, about 200 people gathered in Nazran’s downtown to protest frequent abductions and murders in Ingushetia, and the local law enforcement’s failure to address the lawlessness, the independent Moscow newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported. Police used force to break up the rally.