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TEN JOURNALISTS ARRESTED FOR COVERING PROTEST

Ten journalists were arrested on Saturday for covering a protest that turned violent in Nazran, the capital of the southwestern Russian republic of Ingushetia, report the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations (CJES), Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

According to RSF, the journalists were detained while covering a demonstration on 26 January against alleged vote-rigging in the December parliamentary elections, in which the pro-government party, United Russia, won 99 per cent of the vote in Ingushetia.

Police dispersed the "illegal" protest by firing bullets in the air and detaining the protesters and journalists. Several people had to be hospitalised for injuries and dozens more were detained.

The journalists were held for 20 hours before being escorted by armed troops to the neighbouring Russian republic of North Ossetia for their "security", says Human Rights Watch. The government claims that several parts of Ingushetia are "counter-terrorist operation zones" - allegedly to protect civilians from attacks by armed separatist groups based in neighbouring Chechnya.

Said-Khussein Tsarnaev, a photojournalist for the state news agency RIA-Novosti, and Mustafa Kurskiev, a correspondent for two Moscow-based print outlets, were arrested while filming a building that had been set on fire. RSF reports that Kurskiev was badly beaten by police. Both men were detained overnight with no access to counsel, medical aid or food.

CJES accused the police of breaking the law. "The professional activities of journalists... cannot be restricted during an anti-terrorist operation," CJES says. "Even under a state of emergency, restrictions can only concern the dissemination of information and not the movements of journalists, and any act of violence, arrest or detention continues to be unacceptable."

Other journalists arrested while covering Saturday's demonstration were Roman Plyusov and Vladimir Varfolomeev of Echo Moscow radio; Danila Galperovich, of Radio Liberty; Olga Bobrova of the newspaper "Novaya Gazeta"; two correspondents of St. Petersburg Channel Five TV; and two correspondents of Russian State TV. The police confiscated their video, photo and recording equipment, as well as their ID.

Human Rights Watch has reported on the excessive use of force during another demonstration in Ingushetia in October 2006 and, along with the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), documented a brutal attack on human rights activists and journalists in Ingushetia in November 2007 on the eve of the elections.

Visit these links:
- CJES: http://www.cjes.ru/lenta/?year=2006&lang=eng
- Human Rights Watch: http://tinyurl.com/2l3kuv
- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=25218
- CPJ on November 2007 attack: http://tinyurl.com/2wbsao
(29 January 2008)

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