Zyazikov Allies Try to Strike at Critical Media—but Fail

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 9 Issue: 11

Deputies in Ingushetia’s People’s Assembly issued an appeal on March 18 that called for broadcasts by REN-TV to the republic to be halted and described the presence of the privately-owned channel’s journalists in the republic as “undesirable,” Kavkazky Uzel reported. The appeal, which was addressed to both houses of Russia’s parliament, the Federal Security Service (FSB), the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Interior Ministry, followed REN-TV’s airing on March 17 of a documentary film about the opposition to Ingushetia’s president, Murat Zyazikov.

“The REN-TV television company has intensified its, so to speak, ‘creative’ activity on the territory of the Republic of Ingushetia,” the Ingush legislators said in their appeal to the federal bodies. “Without encroaching in any way on the legal right of media to receive information about events taking place in our republic, we want to draw your attention to the obviously made-to-order and provocative character of the coverage of these events. The provocative, slanderous and tendentious reporting by REN-TV on events in the region that has been appearing on the air for some time suggests that behind it stand forces interested in swaying the situation in the south of our country. … There is good reason to believe that the reporting by this television company that appears on the air with enviable constancy is directly connected to attempts by certain forces, including from abroad, to destabilize the situation in the region. We have to inform you that we consider broadcasts of programs of the REN-TV television company, as well as the presence of journalists of the company on Ingushetia’s territory, to be undesirable.”

The new Ingushetian People’s Assembly, which was elected on March 2, is widely said to have been handpicked by President Zyazikov.

Isa Kostoev, a Federation Council member from Ingushetia, sent a letter to Prosecutor General Yury Chaika accusing “certain forces” of trying to destabilize the situation in the republic. Kostoev accused REN-TV, Ekho Moskvy radio, the newspapers Zhizn and Novaya Gazeta and Ingushetiya.ru of being involved in “sabotage-demolition activities with respect to the republic.” He also said in the letter that the content of the documentary shown on REN-TV on March 17 was “falsified from beginning to end ” and that its depiction of the circumstances surrounding incidents of rioting, arson and looting of “a whole series of establishments and organizations” in the republic was “distorted.” Last November, three REN-TV journalists—Artyom Vysotsky, Karen Sakhinov and Stanislav Goryachikh—were kidnapped along with Oleg Orlov of Memorial just before a planned opposition demonstration, which police forcibly broke up. In late January, opposition supporters attempting to hold a protest rally clashed with police and several buildings were set on fire (Chechnya Weekly, January 31).

However, Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov said that the body does not have the power to meet the Ingush legislators’s demands for action against REN-TV’s broadcasts and correspondents. “Unfortunately, we don’t have the ability or the authority to close television channels or to influence their content,” Kavkazky Uzel on March 18 quoted Mironov as telling journalists.

The Ingush parliamentarians’ demand that REN-TV’s broadcasts no longer be shown in Ingushetia followed the Russian Supreme Court’s rejection on March 18 of a suit brought by the Ingush prosecutor’s office to close the opposition Ingushetiya.ru website, which republican prosecutors have accused of stirring up national hatred and enmity in the republic. Ingushetia’s Supreme Court had earlier rejected a similar suit, arguing that it did not have jurisdiction over Ingushetiya.ru because the website is registered in the United States. Ingushetiya.ru, meanwhile, praised the documentary shown on REN-TV, saying that among other things, it exposed Zyazikov’s “lie” about the “artificial character” of dissatisfaction in the republic and exposed his program to return ethnic Russians to the republic as “a fiction.”

In an action that some observers interpreted as a sign that the federal center may be considering replacing Zyazikov as Ingushetia’s president, United Russia named Maryan Amriev the head of its regional chapter in Ingushetia, thereby removing Zyazikov as leader of the pro-Kremlin partys’ branch in the republic (see Andrei Smirinov’s article below). On March 14, Zyazikov, who shook up his cabinet earlier this month (Chechnya Weekly, March 13), appointed Kharun Dzeitov as Ingushetia’s new prime minister. Kavkazky Uzel reported on March 14 that the government shakeup in Ingushetia was connected to the “growing tension” in the republic.

Meanwhile, violence in the republic continued unabated over the past week. On March 19, a police car carrying an Ingush police commander, Mukhazher Yevloev, came under fire in the village of Sagopshi in Ingushetia’s Malgobeksky district. A law-enforcement source told Kavkazky Uzel that the attack left the car with several dozen bullet holes but that Yevloev was miraculously alive and unhurt. Also on March 19, a police car was bombed in the village of Ordzhonikidzevskaya in Ingushetia’s Sunzhensky district, wounding a policeman. On March 14, an unidentified gunman using a gun with a silencer shot a senior police lieutenant, Magomed Vyshegurov, to death while he was sitting in his car outside a store in Nazran. Also on March 14, three FSB employees were shot by unidentified gunmen in the village of Ekazhevo. The attackers fired from a car at another car in which the FSB officers were riding. One of the FSB officers was killed and the other two were wounded.

Kavkazky Uzel reported on March 16 that Vyshegurov was a cousin of Magomed Mutsolgov, head of the Ingush human rights group MASHR. Rustam Mutsolgov, the 21-year-old resident of the village of Troitskaya who was killed by security forces during an operation in the village on March 12, was also a relative of the MASHR head, Kavkazky Uzel reported.