This post is part of a series of reports from Fatima's project on the brutal censorship of journalists in the North Caucasus published in advance of her upcoming feature story in the fall issue of the Nieman Reports.
[Video Coming Soon]
Between two wars in the mid-nineties Chechnya was in chaos. Kidnapping became one of the most popular businesses among field commanders, earning them thousands of dollars in exchange for the freedom and safety of the prisoners they collected from all around the Caucasus—and sometimes even from far areas in Stavropolsky and Krasnodarskiy Kray.
At the time Magomed Evloyev worked in a prosecutor's office in his home town of Malgobek. Magomed became one of a very few people who was brave enough to search for the disappeared inside Chechnya, to negotiate with field commanders and to rescue prisoners. It was in the mid-nineties when he started writing reports for the local independent media giving a detailed picture of the kidnapping industry, naming the criminals involved and urging that authorities take action. As a result of his media activities he soon became estranged from his own department, which resulted in his resignation. The official version was that Magomed had been involved in the escape from prison of a kidnapper, who was subsequently killed by relatives of the victim he had earlier executed (allegedly because he was not satisfied with the victim's ransom payment). The case against Magomed was soon closed. His role in the escape was never proved, but his reputation had been damaged.
Magomed moved from Ingushetia to Moscow where he started a new business and enjoyed some success. But even as a rich person Magomed could not ignore the disastrous developments in his home republic. In 2001 he decided to establish a special website, Ingushetiya.ru, organized along the lines of what in the western media is called "social media". There were no staff writers or reporters, only a single staff member who was an IT specialist. Everyone was invited to send information and to upload photos and video, which people in Ingushetia started doing with great enthusiasm. Soon the website became one of the most visited and most popular sources of grassroots information and first-hand witness testimonies.
Ingushetiya.ru published reports covering all aspects of the political and social life in this troubled region, showing how civilians had been caught in the struggle between radical extremists and federal forces. The website published reports on the military crimes committed by the Russian federal troops and security services. It gave detailed and factual accounts of the corruption in the president's administration. Ingushetiya.ru even published the list of members of the "death squadrons", the individuals involved in a growing number of disappearances and extrajudicial killings of local youth.
Soon Ingushetiya.ru became a target for the security services and prosecutor's office. In July 2007 a criminal case was issued against Magomed by Moscow's Kuntsevo municipality public procurator, accusing him of "inciting inter-ethnic hatred". The old criminal case alledging Magomed's involvement in the prison break of a kidnapper was revived, meanwhile, and Magomed was called in for interrogation. His parent's house in Malgobek and his apartment in Moscow were each searched by the police.
The officials in Ingushetia started using rough language when speaking about Magomed and his website, which they considered to be opposition media. Words such as extremism, radicalism and separatism became the most common terminology in official characterizations of this website, which continued its reporting on crimes and corruption.
A delegation of local elders and officials were sent to Magomed's father Yakhya Evloyev to convince him to give his son an order to close Ingushetiya.ru. Yakhya did so fearing for his son's life. In compliance with his father's request Magomed passed the editor's rights to journalist Rosa Malsagova but he refused to close the site.
During this period of the authorities' close supervision of Magomed, two young men disappeared in Ingushetia. Maksharip Aushev, the father of one of the missing men and uncle to the second, started his own investigation and asked Magomed to help, which Ingushetiya.ru did at once. Maksharip announced a considerably big reward for information about his son and nephew, also calling upon people of Ingushetia to engage in a protest demanding the release of the boys. The demonstration took place and the participants were attacked by the police. Journalists of the independent Ren TV, who had come from Moscow to report on the event, were arrested and beaten up. The two prisoners were then released - they had been tortured but were still alive. Maksharip had gotten the address of the secret prison in Chechnya where his son and nephew had been kept. Together with the two former prisoners he took a ride to the neighboring republic. Meanwhile Ingushetiya.ru announced the news about this secret prison claiming that it had been established by Ramzan Kadyrov, the president of Chechnya, and listed its exact location. Maksharip provided pictures of the place. Signatures of three young men who also had disappeared in Ingushetia were discovered in the prison, their names written in blood on the walls.
The authorities' tolerance for Magomed's activities expired altogether when he organized the public action campaign "I did not vote," which was intended to demonstrate that Ingushetia's participation in the 2008 election of the Russian president was fraudulent. The official number that the local election commission reported to the Kremlin was 98% for Vladimir Putin's successor Dmitry Medvedev. The numbers that Magomed's action collected showed that up to 70% of the citizens of Ingushetia did not participate in the election of the Russian president and their votes had been used without their knowledge. The action became a top story in the Russian non-government-owned media. In a number of interviews Magomed indicated that he planned to send an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, thus putting a question mark on the legacy of the Russian president.
Ingushetia's public prosecutor in response, with backing from a Moscow Kuntsevo court, issued an official order accusing Ingushetiya.ru and its owner of "extremism". In 2008 the website was charged with criminal offenses as a media outlet and ordered to be closed. Yet according to Russian law Ingushetiya.ru was not subject to such an order since it had never been registered as a media outlet and was hosted outside Russia. Magomed decided to keep the website alive.
But the situation with Ingushetiya.ru and its owner had become unbearable for the authorities. The president of Ingushetia, Murat Zyazikov, denounced Magomed by name, calling him a public enemy. And after being harassed by the police and the FSB, Rosa Malsagova immigrated to France, fearing for her life.
Magomed was arrested on August 31, 2008 after his flight from Moscow landed in Ingushetia's capital Magas. He was shot in the head while in a police car, dropped at the hospital entrance and died almost on the spot.
The investigation of Magomed's death and following court hearing concluded that the gunshot was an accident. An officer of the MVD (Russian acronym for the federal police), Ibragim Evloyev, (no relation to Magomed) chief of the MVD minister's bodyguard, was named the killer. He was sentenced to two years in a penal colony with the cancellation of his police license for the same period of time.
Magomed's father, Yakhya, told journalists that he believed his son's murder was a political assassination ordered by high officials and carried out by the police. He said he had lost his faith in justice in Russia and was now appealing to the European Court of Human Rights.
Maksharip Aushev, who took over Ingushetiya.ru after Magomed's death, was killed when gunmen shot his car in October of 2009.
In March 2010 the High Court of Ingushetia changed the local court's verdict, releasing Ibragim Evloyev from jail and restoring his police license. In August Ibragim Evloyev, now a deputy chief of the security service of the MVD, was shot to death by unknown assailants. The elderly Yakhya was named a prime suspect by police authorities, who described the murder as one motivated by the desire for blood revenge.
Note: The domain ingushetiya.ru (archive available) has ceased to operate; it was changed to ingushetiyaru.org but was closed in Russia by a prosecutor's order this summer.