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Moscow court orders closure of North Caucasus news website

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has denounced repeated efforts by authorities in the southern Russian republic of Ingushetia to shut down the regional news website Ingushetiya—one of the few remaining independent news outlets covering the volatile North Caucasus—for alleged extremism.

On June 6, Kuntsevo district court in Moscow ordered the closure of the website, alleging it contained extremist content in a series of articles, Ingushetiya’s defence lawyer Musa Pliyev told CPJ. Ingushetiya’s owner, Magomed Yevloyev, told CPJ that he thinks authorities want to close down his site because of its critical coverage of current events in Ingushetia. He said that once the site receives the official verdict, he would appeal it before the Moscow City Court.

“We are extremely concerned about the court decision to shutter this Web site and call on Russian authorities to drop charges and allow Ingushetiya to continue its work,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Programme Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “Coverage of the North Caucasus is scarce in Russia and the few who attempt to report on it meet government hostility, harassment, physical violence, and politicized prosecution. President Dmitry Medvedev should make good on his stated commitment to press freedom and allow independent reporting on the region.”

Yevloyev told CPJ that Ingushetia authorities have initiated more than a dozen lawsuits against the website in the past year. Among other regional-specific issues, the website covers disappearances of local residents, corruption, unemployment, and anti-government protests. It has called for Ingushetia President Murat Zyazikov to step down.

The Ingushetia regional prosecutor’s office announced on its website June 16 that it is ordering all Ingushetia Internet providers to block access to the website, including through proxy servers.

Authorities have been shuttling the extremism lawsuit against Ingushetiya between four different Russian courts, starting in February. When Ingushetia’s Supreme Court rejected a local prosecutor’s request to shutter the website on extremist charges in February, authorities brought the lawsuit before Russia’s Supreme Court. In March, Russia’s Supreme Court also rejected the prosecutor’s claim against the website, but Ingushetia authorities did not give up. They brought the lawsuit before the Moscow City Court in April. Moscow City Court officials, however, also declined to admit the case, but redirected it to the Kuntsevo District Court in Moscow for review. On June 6, the Kuntsevo District Court in Moscow issued the ruling to shut the Web site.

Independent journalism is not welcomed in Ingushetia, CPJ research shows. In January, police in the regional capital of Nazran rounded up nine journalists and two human rights defenders and detained them at the local police headquarters for several hours, preventing them from reporting on an opposition protest. Two of the journalists were badly beaten.

Three months earlier, three Moscow-based REN-TV channel correspondents and a human rights activist were kidnapped by a group of about 15 camouflaged men from a hotel in Nazran and taken close to the border with Chechnya, where they were intimidated and severely beaten. When they complained to President Zyazikov about their treatment, he brushed off their account and blamed the attack on unidentified destructive forces from outside.

Date posted: June 19, 2008 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 462