Rashid Maysigov, a reporter for investigative news website Fortanga, was detained in July 2019 on charges of illegal drug possession that his family and lawyer say are in retaliation for his journalism. In September 2020, a Magas district court found Maysigov guilty and sentenced him to three years in prison on the drug possession charge.
At Fortanga, Maysigov contributed to reports on alleged corruption, unemployment, and human rights violations in the Republic of Ingushetia in Russia’s North Caucasus, a representative from the website, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal, told CPJ via messaging app. He also ran the outlet’s Telegram app.
Maysigov told his employer that he believed the Federal Security Service (FSB) had tapped his phone and that agents were following him, prompting him to suspend his journalism activities in June 2019, the representative said.
On July 12, 2019, FSB agents detained Maysigov after raiding his home in Nazran, a town in Ingushetia, according to Magomed Aushev, the journalist’s lawyer, who spoke with CPJ via messaging app, and local news reports.
The FSB agents handcuffed the journalist, searched the premises, and alleged that they found drugs and print materials calling for the unification of Ingushetia with the neighboring Republic of Georgia, according to those reports. Maysigov told his lawyer that agents took him into custody and questioned him about his journalism, gave him electric shocks during questioning, and forced him to confess to possessing drugs, Aushev told CPJ.
According to a complaint filed by Aushev in the fall of 2019 and reviewed by CPJ, on July 12, 2019, law enforcement officers brought Maysigov to the FSB building in Magas, the Ingush capital, where in a closed room three masked employees connected to his ears two electrodes that were attached to a “machine,” and turned the machine on, after which Maysigov felt strong pain from the electric shock that jolted him; they repeated that multiple times while interrogating him.
The three men took Maysigov’s phone and made him reveal the password, after which they looked through it, asking detailed questions about his contacts, and urging him to confess to drug possession, according to this complaint. The complaint states that after one or two hours they finished the interrogation, asked Maysigov to undress from the waist up, and demanded that he state for a video recording that he had not been tortured or physically harmed; the journalist complied with the demand.
Maysigov’s mother, Ferdovs, was quoted on Fortanga’s Telegram channel as saying that during the raid, a security services officer produced a packet containing a white substance and some papers that had not been there before. The papers contained calls for Ingushetia to join Georgia, according to reports. She denied that the items were in the house and said her son had never used drugs.
According to a report by Kavkaz.Realii (Caucasus Realities), the local service of U.S. Congress-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Maysigov’s lawyer said the journalist had received threats prior to his detention.
On July 14, 2019, Russia’s media regulatory agency, Roskomnadzor, blocked access to Fortanga’s website in Russia, according to news reports. Access was restored on July 21, after the website administrators deleted–at Roskomnadzor’s request–a poem left in a comment, the Fortanga representative told CPJ and Kavkazsky Uzel reported.
On July 16, 2019, a Magas district court formally placed Maysigov under arrest and ordered him to remain in pretrial detention for two months pending an investigation into illegal drug possession, his lawyer told CPJ.
On November 19, 2019, the Supreme Court of Ingushetia ruled that Maysigov should be held under house arrest pending his trial, according to Kavkaz.Realii.
On July 24, 2020, the court extended Maysigov’s house arrest for another three months, according to news reports.
At a September 9, 2020, Magas district court hearing, the prosecutor asked for a five-year prison term for Maysigov, according to Aushev, who communicated with CPJ on the phone and via messaging app, and news reports. On September 15, 2020, Maysigov formally pleaded not guilty to the drug possession charges, according to news reports and Aushev.
The evidence cited in court was a packet containing a white substance that the police allegedly found in Maysigov’s house during the search on July 12, 2019, according to news reports and Aushev. Later, an investigation conducted by the FSB found that the substance contained heroin, said Aushev.
According to Maysigov’s lawyer and news reports, the drug charges against Maysigov are in retaliation for his journalistic work, particularly for his reporting on spring 2019 protests in Ingushetia when protesters opposed the local authorities’ decision to give away a part of Ingush territory to neighboring Chechnya. Aushev told CPJ that the case had many inconsistencies, including the absence of Maysigov’s fingerprints on the packet with drugs allegedly found in his house, and the “absence of any traces of heroin in Maysigov’s system.”
On September 16, 2020, the Magas district court found Maysigov guilty of illegal drug possession and sentenced him to three years in prison, according to news reports. Aushev told CPJ that he filed an appeal.
In a separate case, the Magas district court charged Maysigov on January 23, 2020, with “public appeals aimed at violating the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation using the mass media or electronic or telecommunication networks” on his personal Instagram account, according to Aushev and news reports. According to Aushev, the Instagram post in question called for organizing a referendum on Ingushetia separating from Russia and becoming part of Georgia. Aushev told CPJ that the court hearing in this case was first scheduled for November 19, 2020, later rescheduled for November 26, and then rescheduled again for January 19, 2021; he said that if Maysigov is found guilty, he faces up to five years in prison. Aushev told CPJ in early November 2020 that Maysigov had decided to plead guilty in this case.
As of September 21, 2020, Maysigov had no health-related complaints, according to Aushev. He is being held in Karabulak detention center No.1, where he was transferred from house arrest on September 16, according to Aushev.
In September 2020, Aushev told CPJ that in fall 2019 he had filed a complaint to the Directorate of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation for the Southern Military District on behalf of his client, alleging that Maysigov was tortured by FSB agents after they detained him in July 2019.
In the complaint, Aushev asked the directorate to conduct a probe into the “illegal methods of investigation by the FSB officers.” However, the directorate refused to look into the incident, saying it had already investigated the allegations after Russian news website Lenta.Ru on July 24, 2019, published a story quoting Aushev’s complaints of torture by the FSB officers, and had not found any evidence to support the journalist’s claims, Aushev said.
CPJ sent requests for comment to the FSB’s Ingushetia division, the Directorate of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation for the Southern Military District, and the Russian Ministry of Interior–which oversees the country’s penitentiary system–through the three bodies’ official websites.
On September 29, 2020, the Directorate of the Investigative Committee told CPJ in an emailed statement that it had investigated the allegations of torture of Maysigov by FSB employees, but had not found any evidence that would confirm those allegations. On October 9, 2020, the FSB’s Ingushetia division responded to CPJ in an emailed statement stating that the information CPJ had requested could be provided by the Russian Ministry of Interior’s division in Ingushetia and the Magas district court. CPJ did not receive a response from the Russian Ministry of Interior.