Ingush activist and journalist Rashid Maysigov has been sentenced to three years in a penal colony for ‘drug possession’.
On Wednesday, the Magas District Court in Ingushetia sentenced him for the ‘possession of a large quantity of drugs’. The prosecutor’s office had demanded five years in prison for Maysigov.
A former journalist for local opposition news outlet Fortanga, Maysigov covered the Chechen–Ingush land swap dispute.
The authorities in Russia, and especially in the North Caucasus, have frequently prosecuted critics on drugs charges that local rights groups insist are fabricated. These include Chechen journalist Zhalavdi Geriyev in 2016, Sochi-based investigative reporter Nikolay Yarst on the eve of the 2014 Sochi Olympics, and the head of the Chechen branch of the Memorial human rights centre, Oyub Titiyev, in March 2019.
His lawyer, Magomed Aushev, told OC Media that on Monday they would receive an official court ruling and plan to immediately appeal the decision.
Aushev said he believed the verdict violated the law and would seek Maysigov’s acquittal.
In July 2019, Maysigov was detained by officers of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) for Ingushetia. A month before his arrest, Maysigov left his job after Fortanga wrote that he had been threatened.
Fortanga was set up in the wake of a controversial land deal between Ingushetia and Chechnya and covered the protests surrounding the deal extensively. The agreement signed in September 2018, according to which 9% of Ingushetia's territory was transferred to Chechnya, sparked a wave of protests in Ingushetia.
[Read on OC Media: One year since Ingushetia’s protests]
Detention and charges
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.
Maysigov’s lawyer told OC Media in November 2019 that Maysigov had been tortured with electric shocks during his interrogation, but that no traces of torture were found on his body. After his arrest, Maysigov confessed that the drugs belonged to him.
Subsequently, the former journalist said that he did not use and did not store drugs, he was forced to ‘admit’ guilt under torture, and the substances that were found at his house were planted by security officials during searches. At the trial, Maysigov also stated that in addition to drugs, the security forces planted leaflets on him calling for the separation of Ingushetia from Russia.
Maysigov spent more than four months in a pre-trial detention center, and then was transferred under house arrest.
A Controversial Land Deal
The controversial deal, according to which about 340 square kilometers (about 9% of the territory of Ingushetia) was transferred to the Russian republic of Chechnya, was signed in September 2018 by the former head of Ingushetia, Yunus-bek Yevkurov, and the head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov.
In October, MPs from Ingushetia’s regional parliament, the People’s Assembly, approved the deal 17-4 in a secret ballot, leading to weeks of street protests in Ingushetia’s capital.
Protests re-erupted in late March 2019. 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.
Subsequently, law enforcement officers detained and convicted several dozen protesters.