OMON riot police on January 26 forcibly dispersed protesters who gathered in Nazran to protest the policies and actions of the administration of Ingushetia’s president, Murat Zyazikov. Kommersant reported on January 28 that while the demonstration’s organizers officially billed it as being “in support of President Putin,” its real aim was to demand once again Zyazikov’s resignation. A similar protest, held in Nazran last November 24, was also broken up by riot police (Chechnya Weekly, November 29, 2007).
The independent Ingushetiya.ru website and other media reported that while thousands of demonstrators tried to get to Nazran’s central square, the demonstration’s planned site, the area was surrounded by heavily armed riot police and armored vehicles and thus only several hundred manage to get near the square. Protesters reportedly threw stones and Molotov cocktails at the riot police, who in turn beat protesters and fired over their heads, wounding one protester. At that point, the protest’s organizers decided to call it off and reschedule it for February 23, the anniversary of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s mass deportation of the Chechens and Ingush in 1944. “We understood that we couldn’t force our way onto the square without a clash, that blood might be shed, so we decided to call off the demonstration,” one of the protest’s organizers, Ingushetiya.ru proprietor Mamgomed Yevloev, told Kommersant.
Still, Kommersant reported that the protesters then split into two groups, one of which headed for the Nazran police headquarters while the other headed to the Assa Hotel and the offices of the government newspaper Serdalo, both of which were set ablaze. According to police officials and Serdalo’s chief editor, Khusein Shadiev, the protesters threw Molotov cocktails at both buildings. Shadiev said the protesters – who, he said, numbered around 200—were not “peaceful demonstrators” but “real [rebel] fighters,” and that neither the military nor the police had tried to “prevent these outrages.” According to Kommersant, the newspaper’s offices were seriously damaged by the fire but the hotel escaped serious damage because the fire there was extinguished quickly. No one was hurt at either location. Kommersant quoted Svetlana Gorbakova, an aide to the head of the investigations department of the federal Investigative Committee’s branch for Ingushetia, as saying that police found more than 100 unused Molotov cocktails in a garage near the newspaper’s offices.
Magomed Yevloev, for his part, said the opposition was not responsible for the arson attacks or other acts of violence in Nazran on January 26. “The opposition has nothing to do with the mass riots that took place in the city,” he told Kommersant. “Provocateurs acting in the interests of the authorities fought with the police and burned the buildings.”
Police reported that 43 people were arrested in connection with the January 26 demonstration and violence in Nazran. Among those detained were two human rights activists—Memorial staff members Ekaterina Sokiryanskaya and Timur Akiev, who were held for 10 hours and interrogated as witnesses to “mass riots” —and 10 journalists, including correspondents for Ekho Moskvy radio, Novaya Gazeta and Radio Liberty. Kommersant reported that Mustafa Kurkiev, a correspondent for the newspaper Zhizn, was severely beaten by police after they detained him along with Said-Khussein Tsarnaev, a photojournalist for RIA Novosti. Kommersant quoted sources in the Zyazikov administration as saying the journalists had been “detained for resisting the authorities.”
Human Rights Watch condemned the detention of the journalists in Nazran. “Ingush authorities are trying to silence dissent by stopping journalists from doing their jobs,” said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. She said it was “disgraceful” Kurkiev and Tsarnaev were “detained and ill-treated by police just because they were covering a protest,” adding that with tensions rising, Ingushetia “needs more independent reporting, not less,” and that Ingushetia’s government “should stop harassing journalists and ensure freedom of expression.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also condemned the detention of the journalists and human rights activists in Nazran, stating in a January 29 press release that, according to its interviews, two of the detained journalists had been “badly beaten.” “We are appalled by the abusive actions of the Ingush authorities, which effectively prevented news of civil protests from reaching the rest of the world,” the press release quoted CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon as saying. Joel added, “The forceful prevention of journalists from covering important news is the reason why Russia’s North Caucasus has become a virtual black hole for information.”
Ingushetia’s two main Internet providers blocked access to Ingushetiya.ru over several days prior to the January 26 protest in Nazran.