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An activist against Ingushetia’s controversial land deal with Chechnya and a local journalist have been detained. According to his lawyer, journalist Rashid Maysigov, who is accused of drug possession and treason, is being tortured by the authorities.
According to Ingush news site Fortanga, activist Zarifa Sautiyeva’s lawyer announced her detention at 1:00 on 13 July. Sautiyeva was transported to a detention centre in Kabardino-Balkaria’s capital, Nalchik.
Sautiyeva was charged with leading an illegal organisation and using violence against the authorities, her lawyer Bilan Dzugayev said. Sautiyeva participated in an unsanctioned rally on 27 March in the Ingush capital Magas, which led to a clash with police and the arrest of 40 activists. She was fined ₽20,000 ($320).
[Read more on the March protests: Turmoil in Ingushetia as protests re-erupt and interior minister ‘sacked’]
Sautiyeva participated in October’s protests against the controversial land deal with Chechnya, according to which Ingushetia gave up about 9% of its territory to its eastern neighbour.
In January, Sautiyeva told OC Media that she was forced to leave her post as deputy director of the Memorial of Memory and Glory in Ingushetia's largest city, Nazran. According to her, her dismissal was connected to her participation in the protest movement as a member of public organisation Support for Ingushetia.
Sautiyeva is the first female participant of the protests to be transported to the Nalchik detention centre.
[Read more on repression against anti–land deal activists on OC Media: Protesters ‘fired from jobs’ in Ingushetia]
On the morning of 12 July, Rashid Maysigov, a journalist for news site Fortanga, was detained by the Ingush division of the Federal Security Service (FSB), his lawyer Magomed Aushev said.
Fortanga was set up in the wake of the land deal and has been highly critical of the authorities.
According to Maysigov’s mother, the FSB ‘found’ a bag with white powder on him, presumably drugs. She added that they also went through a pile of papers on his table and ‘it turned out’ that the pile contained leaflets about Georgia. According to Fortanga, these could be leaflets allegedly distributed in June calling for Ingushetia to unite with Georgia.
Fortanga wrote that Maysigov had been receiving threats and therefore stopped working as a journalist a month ago.
Maysigov’s lawyer, Magomed Aushev, told Fortanga that Maysigov had been charged with drug possession and treason and that he was tortured with electric shocks during his interrogation.
Prosecution of government critics
Journalists and government critics have frequently been prosecuted in Russia, especially in the North Caucasus, in cases rights groups insist are fabricated.
On 17 June, Abdulmumin Gadzhiyev, a journalist and editor of Daghestani daily Chernovik, was detained on terror charges. One of the witnesses to testify against him showed visible signs of torture on his face during Gadzhiyev’s bail hearing.
[Read more on OC Media: Editor and journalist from Daghestani newspaper Chernovik detained on terror charges]
Martin Kochesoko, the leader of Circassian youth group Khabze, was arrested on the 7 June on cannabis possession charges. He was transferred to house arrest pending trial following protests against his detention.
[Read more about Kochesoko’s case: Circassian activist Martin Kochesoko transferred to house arrest]
Others similar high-profile prosecutions in recent years include those of Oyub Titiyev, the head of Russian rights group Memorial’s Chechen branch, Zhalavdi Geriyev, a Chechen journalist who reported on rights abuses in the Caucasus, and Nikolay Yarst, a Sochi-based investigative reporter.
[Read from the OC Media editorial board: Editorial | I/We are Golunov, and Geriyev, and Kochesoko…]
A controversial land deal
The arrests come less than three weeks after Yunus-Bek Yevkurov stepped down as head of Ingushetia following months of unprecedented street protests. He was replaced by acting head Mahmud-Ali Kalimatov.
The widely unpopular land deal, which handed around 340 square kilometres to Chechnya, was signed by Yevkurov and his Chechen counterpart Ramzan Kadyrov in September 2018.
In October, MPs from Ingushetia’s regional parliament, the People’s Assembly, approved the deal 17-4 in a secret ballot. Following the vote, a number of MPs claimed it had been falsified, insisting they had voted against the deal.
The Supreme Court of Ingushetia ruled at the end of October that the border deal violated Ingushetia’s constitution, as a referendum was required in order to adopt it.
However, Russia’s Supreme Court overruled the court in December, in proceedings boycotted by the head of the Ingush constitutional court, Ayup Gagiyev, who insisted that the federal court had no jurisdiction over its decisions.
Protests re-erupted in late March after the Ingush authorities attempted to change the Law on Referenda on which the Supreme Court’s ruling rested.
The authorities responded by banning further protests, firing the republic’s interior minister, and disbanding a local police unit, after reports they sided with protesters against units of the Russian National Guard.