By Tolerating Rights Abuses, Ingush Authorities Set Trap for Themselves

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 9 Issue: 194

Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, head of Ingushetia (Source: Reuters)

On October 19, a court in Nazran, Ingushetia, sentenced the republic’s leading opposition figure, Magomed Khazbiev, to 15 days arrest. Khazbiev, who was accused of obstructing police officers while they were on duty, was arrested immediately upon his arrival from Moscow, where he had organized a protest demanding the resignation of the head of the republic, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov. The authorities reportedly took extraordinary security precautions while transporting the arrested opposition leader. In 2011, Khazbiev was sentenced to ten days under arrest for organizing a protest that turned violent, but was released after two days through Yevkurov’s personal intervention. Before that, in 2008, Khazbiev faced a criminal case for organizing protests in the republic, but was acquitted by Ingushetia’s Supreme Court after Yevkurov replaced the then president, Murad Zyazikov (http://kommersant.ru/doc/2050220).

On October 21, the Mehk-Khel organization, which positions itself as Ingushetia’s informal parliament, adopted a special statement after Khazbiev’s arrest. In the statement, the Ingush opposition activists said that Moscow had ignored all their previous protests, while the situation in the republic was deteriorating further. In order to reverse the trend and at the same time avoid violence, Mehk-Khel decided to organize a mass hunger strike demanding Yevkurov’s resignation and Moscow’s adoption of urgent measures for improving the economic and social life of the region. According to Mehk-Khel, Ingushetia’s government feared the protests so much that it started to harass the opposition by summoning opposition leaders to police stations (http://ingushetiyaru.org/news/35674/).

Yevkurov has come under increasing criticism from civil society and the political opposition in the republic. His opponents blame him for the republic’s poor economic performance, corruption, continuing human rights abuses by law agencies and backtracking on Ingushetia’s aspirations for the disputed Prigorodny district of North Ossetia. In June, Moscow decreed that regional governors would be once again directly elected. Yevkurov is likely to seek reelection in 2013, so the political struggle in the republic is expected to intensify. The political process in the republic is impeded by the precarious security situation and human rights abuses by government agents that are ignored.

On October 17, several Ingush families appealed to the president and the prime minister of Russia, asking them to send a government commission to investigate the killing of their sons and other similar cases. Abdurakhman Kurskiev, Ilez Merzhoev and Ibragim Bekbuzarov were killed by the security services in the Ingush town of Malgobek on August 28 and declared postmortem to be militants. Their relatives rejected official claims and have been seeking a proper investigation of this case ever since. According to the relatives of the slain suspects, large numbers of special forces came to their houses early on the morning of August 28 and let the families go outside of their homes while seizing the suspected militants. The young men were then searched and interrogated inside their homes, where they were subsequently shot dead. The authorities later claimed that the suspects were killed during special operations, but much of the open source evidence shows that police and security services operatives executed the suspects. The relatives of the slain suspected militants further claimed that Yevkurov “failed to provide one piece of proof of even circumstantial guilt” of their sons, instead trying “every possible way to shield the security forces involved in the murder of [their] children” (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/214223/).

On October 19, the same day opposition leader Magomedov was arrested, Yevkurov posted a personal address to the militants in his online blog, calling on them to surrender and promising his personal support. Yevkurov provided his cell phone number, asking the repentant militants to call him (http://evkurov.livejournal.com/73973.html). In an interview with Izvestia newspaper, Yevkurov said that repentant militants would be treated well, adding that their families would get material support from the government while the militants themselves would receive the lightest possible prison sentences. There are currently 30 to 50 rebels in Ingushetia, Yevkurov said in the interview, of which 20 are “real thugs.” Even the latter could call him on the phone, Yevkurov stated in the interview. “They think they will not be forgiven, that they will be sentenced to many years of imprisonment or will be killed,” he said. “Their ideologues painstakingly hammered into their heads that they should not surrender” (http://izvestia.ru/news/538103).

If Yevkurov is ready to help even the “real thugs” in Ingushetia’s insurgency, it is unclear why he was unable to prevent the killing in August of young men in Malgobek who probably did not qualify as “real thugs.” This example shows that as the authorities tolerate rampant human rights abuses by the police and security services, their own credibility is eventually undermined and people do not trust them when they promise amnesty for the militants. Indeed, having heard about police snatching and killing suspects who sometimes are not even militants, few rebels, if any, will opt for surrender. Even though the security situation in Ingushetia has markedly improved under Yevkurov, further progress appears to have stalled. Part of the reason for this is that besides the war with the insurgency, there are many other problems in the republic, such as the pitiable state of the local economy, which Yevkurov has apparently failed to tackle. Yunus-Bek Yevkurov is likely to face an uphill battle in his expected bid for Ingushetia’s governorship in 2013.