By Philip P. Pan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, September 1, 2008
MOSCOW, Aug. 31 -- A leading opposition figure in Russia's volatile Ingushetia province was shot and killed Sunday after being detained by police, authorities said. His colleagues issued a call for protests in response, and human rights groups demanded an investigation.
Magomed Yevloyev, a businessman and the owner of a Web site that angered Kremlin-backed local leaders with its coverage of official corruption and police abuse, suffered a gunshot wound to his head while in a police car taking him to a station for interrogation, a spokesman for the Russian prosecutor's office told the Interfax news agency.
A posting on Yevloyev's Web site, Ingushetiya.ru, which the Russian government has been trying to shut down, called for a mass demonstration Monday in Nazran, the main city in Ingushetia and the scene of anti-government protests earlier this year that ended in violent clashes with security forces.
The local government issued a statement saying that Yevloyev was shot after trying to seize a weapon from one of the police officers holding him. But a lawyer for Yevloyev ridiculed the explanation and said police dumped Yevloyev on a road after shooting him.
"It was in no way a mistake," the lawyer, Kaloi Akhilgov, told the Reuters news agency.
Yevloyev had just returned to Ingushetia after an absence of several months. He was seized by a large group of police officers after disembarking from a plane arriving from Moscow, according to a journalist at the scene who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he feared reprisals. The journalist said the regional president, Murat Zyazikov, happened to be on the same flight and called police to the airport after recognizing Yevloyev in the business-class cabin.
Zyazikov, a former KGB officer and ally of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, has been struggling to contain a low-grade Islamist insurgency in Ingushetia, perhaps the most volatile of the impoverished ethnic republics of Russia's north Caucasus region since the government crushed a separatist rebellion in neighboring Chechnya.
The Ingush insurgents have staged a series of deadly attacks against security officers and local authorities, and the local opposition has accused Zyazikov of exacerbating the situation by responding with a campaign of abductions, unlawful arrests and killings.
Tensions have been running high since last November, when government forces allegedly killed a 6-year-old boy in a raid. Journalists from Moscow who traveled to Ingushetia to investigate the case were abducted, forced into a car with black bags over their heads and abandoned half-naked in a remote area, human rights activists said.
Yevloyev was perhaps the most prominent member of the opposition in Ingushetia and one of Zyazikov's most vocal critics. In a posting on his Web site last year, he claimed that Zyazikov had put a $50,000 bounty on his head.
Because of government restrictions on journalists who visit the region, Ingushetiya.ru has been one of the few sources of independent information about the simmering conflict for the outside world. A Russian court ordered it to shut down in June, accusing it of disseminating "extremist" views, and the site's editor in chief, Roza Malsagova, fled the country in July with her family.
But Yevloyev resisted the order, calling it "an attempt to silence the last independent voice" in Ingushetia and saying Russian courts had no jurisdiction over the site because it was based in the United States.