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Owner of North Caucasus Internet portal detained by police, shot dead in Ingushetia

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - The following is a 2 September 2008 ARTICLE 19 press release:

Russia: Owner of North Caucasus Internet Portal Shot Dead

ARTICLE 19 is shocked and saddened by the death of Magomed Yevloev, owner of opposition news website http://www.ingushetiya.ru , who has died of a gunshot wound sustained in unclear circumstances. Ingushetiya.ru is known as the main non-governmental source of information in the North Caucasian autonomous republic of Ingushetia, and is strongly critical of local authorities.

Mr. Yevloev was detained by police as he arrived in Ingushetia on a flight from Moscow, and driven off in a police vehicle. Shortly after that he was taken to hospital by police officers with a gunshot wound to the head. He died of his injuries soon after. According to authorities, he was shot accidentally in the vehicle when he attempted to grab a police officer's machine gun. According to other sources authorities claim that he was shot when the gun of a policeman accidentally went off. According to Ingushetian opposition leaders it was a deliberate and premeditated execution of an oppositional journalist. A manslaughter investigation has already been opened by Ingushetia's public prosecutor.

Mr. Yevloev stopped working as editor of ingushetia.ru in November 2007, but remained its legal owner. Its current editor, Roza Malsagova, recently left Russia and has sought political asylum in France, alleging severe pressure on her by authorities, including through a number of criminal cases brought against her in connection with her editing of http://www.ingushetiya.ru .

The Ingushetian prosecutor has made several attempts to close the site, accusing it of distributing extremist material and incitement to interethnic hatred. The claims were disputed by Mr. Yevloev. On 6 June, a Moscow court found the site to be extremist and ordered it closed, but was not able to enforce the decision as it is registered in the United States. Russia's Law on Countering Extremist Activities defines extremist activity very broadly, leaving the law open to misuse. A further article grants special protection to public officials and stipulates that to accuse a public official of extremism may itself be classed as extremist activity.

"The death of Magomed Yevloev can only contribute to the environment of fear and intimidation in which Russian oppositional media are forced to operate. The ability to publish oppositional views without fear of retribution is particularly crucial in the North Caucasus region which is dealing with the difficult issues of post-conflict reconciliation and trust building," said Dr. Agnes Callamard, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director.

ARTICLE 19 calls on the Russian government to fulfil its obligations under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which guarantee the right to freedom of expression in similar terms and are both legally binding on the Russian Federation. Both these articles not only place an obligation on governments to refrain from interfering in the work of the media, but also impose a positive obligation on the state to create all necessary conditions for the fulfilment of the right to freedom of expression, including protection of media from violence and persecution.

They also oblige governments to create an environment that encourages pluralism and political debate, and where a diverse media can operate safely and without obstruction. Such an environment currently does not exist in the Russian Federation.

We further recommend:

- That Russian authorities urgently conduct a full and transparent investigation into Mr. Yevloev's death at the federal level to ensure the maximum impartiality of the investigation.

- The Government of the Russian Federation to take measures as a matter of urgency to reverse the trend of deteriorating protection of journalists. It sharply diminishes the quality of Russia's investigative media reporting, and deprives the public of their right to information and debate on matters of public importance.

- That authorities ensure that any restrictions on freedom of expression on the grounds of extremism apply only where there is a direct and immediate link between the expression and the likelihood or occurrence of violence.

- That provisions in the Law on Countering Extremist Activities providing special protection to the reputations of public officials be repealed.

For further information on the Malsagova case, see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/95973

For further information on previous attempts to close ingushetia.ru website, see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/94558

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