RUSSIA: Web site editor kidnapped, beaten, threatened in Ingushetia

New York, July 28, 2008–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns Friday’s vicious attack on Zurab Tsechoyev, editor of Mashr, a human rights Web site based in the volatile North Caucasus republic of Ingushetia.

At least 50 armed, masked men in camouflage gear raided Tsechoyev’s home, shoved him into an armored personnel carrier, drove him to an unknown location, and interrogated and beat him for five hours, according to CPJ sources and news reports. Tsechoyev, 45, remained hospitalized today with a broken leg, kidney damage, and multiple bruises. The assailants left Tsechoyev on a road outside Ingushetia’s capital, Magas, after threatening to kill him and his family if he did not quit his job and leave the republic.

The attackers did not present identification, but they are believed to be officers of the Federal Security Service (FSB) based on their clothing, vehicles, and weapons, CPJ sources said. News reports today also began identifying the assailants as local FSB agents. CPJ sources said police told them that no criminal investigation into the attack has been opened.

Armed with AK-47 assault rifles, the assailants arrived at 6 a.m. at Tsechoyev’s home in the Sunzhensky district of Ingushetia, where the journalist lives with his wife and four children, sources told CPJ. The men seized Tsechoyev’s laptop and two mobile phones, CPJ sources said. The assailants questioned Tsechoyev about the news Web site Ingushetiya‘s recent publication of a list of FSB agents accused in a wave of murders in Ingushetia. The attackers questioned Tsechoyev about whether he had leaked the list to the publication, CPJ sources said.

Published by a human rights group of the same name, Mashr carries detailed information on human rights abuses in the southern republic. The Web site contains databases of regional disappearances and killings; the dates the crimes were committed; and information on the suspected perpetrators. Tsechoyev’s brother Tamerlan is among the missing–he was abducted in March 2004 by unknown armed men, according to Mashr.

After Tsechoyev was discovered around mid-day on Friday, human rights activists took him to the Nazran office of the Moscow-based human rights group Memorial, where he was treated briefly before an ambulance took him to a regional hospital. As of today, Tsechoyev had not received documentation of his injuries, evidence that would further a police investigation, CPJ sources said.

“We are outraged by this brazen attack on Zurab Tsechoyev and call on Ingushetia’s authorities to conduct a thorough investigation and bring all perpetrators to justice without delay,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “Ingushetia has gained notoriety as a lawless zone where enemies of the press can attack journalists with impunity.”

In recent years, the conflict between rebels and federal forces in Chechnya has spread to neighboring republics in the North Caucasus. Authorities in Ingushetia have worked hard to repress news about the tensions, CPJ research shows. The republic’s president, Murat Zyazikov, has stood by as journalists and human rights activists have been abducted, beaten, harassed, and threatened with further retaliation if they did not abandon their jobs.

In January, police in Nazran detained, beat, and deported nine journalists and two human rights activists who tried to cover an opposition rally calling for Zyazikov’s resignation. There have been no arrests in the attack. In November 2007, a group of 15 armed, masked assailants in camouflage gear abducted three reporters and a human rights advocate from their hotel rooms in Nazran, put them in a van, harassed and threatened them, and abandoned them in a deserted field close to the Chechen border. One of the officers cheered the others to “take them out one by one! Liquidate them with a silencer!” Memorial reported. The four had planned to cover an antigovernment rally.