Today marks the third anniversary of the protests against the signing of the agreement on the establishment of a border between Ingushetia and Chechnya. The rallies, which later turned into clashes with security forces, resulted in mass arrests of protesters. The protest leaders were declared extremists by the authorities and their trial is still ongoing.
“According to activists and lawyers, the Ingush case has provided an unprecedented example of modern Russian suppression of a peaceful protest movement aimed at curbing the rights of an entire people, and of a show of repression against the movement’s most prominent representatives. The version of the investigators in this case has already been repeatedly refuted not only by the defense witnesses, but also by the prosecution.
Lawyer Magomed Bekov considers the case to be falsified and the investigation to be “a figment of the collective imagination of people who decided to show its seriousness with a huge amount of all kinds of materials. “Nothing is investigated, the charge is unsubstantiated, the guilt is proved neither about the organization of violence, nor about the extremist community. Of the 120 volumes of the criminal case and 45 volumes of the indictment, at most two or three volumes are worthy of attention. And mostly it’s the testimony of witnesses, including the “injured” members of the Russian Guard, none of whom confirmed the guilt of our defendants,” said the lawyer for Fortange.
At the same time, he noted that the defenders of the protest leaders have no illusions about the sentence. “We understand that judges in our country are independent only on paper, and that it is extremely rare for a judge to show independence, especially in a politically biased process like ours. The authorities would have benefited from a guilty verdict. “The “machine” has spent a huge amount of time, money and funds to “investigate” this criminal case, and it is difficult for it to turn around,” said Magomed Bekov.
There is no guarantee that no one else will be prosecuted in this case, he believes. “The case was initiated against an indefinite number of people. It can be investigated for a very long period, suspended, persons can be put on the wanted list, detained after a year, or after two, or after five years,” said Magomed Bekov.
For example, on February 26, co-chairman of the Ingush National Congress Akhmed Pogorov was detained. He is accused, like other leaders of the Ingush protest movement, of organizing life- and health-threatening violence against representatives of the authorities and of being a member of an extremist community.
The last individuals involved in the “Ingush case” were brought to justice almost two years after the rally: on March 18, 2021 Murad Gorbakov and Amir Gazdiyev were detained.
Witnesses have repeatedly pointed out that the rallies were the result of a deliberate provocation by people to divert the attention of the federal center from the facts of corruption and the general ill-being of the republic, he recalled.
“It is possible that by declaring at the congress of the Ingush people: ‘Not an inch of Ingush land!’ (at the time the head of Ingushetia, Yunus-Bek) Yevkurov was playing the role of a man standing guard over the territorial integrity, and was putting the people’s vigilance to sleep. And the goal was precisely to sign this Agreement and lobby for his third term as head. Everything was planned, but Yevkurov and his lobbyists were not expecting such a large-scale protest,” lawyer Magomed Bekov suggested.
Member of the National Assembly of the sixth convocation Zakrii Mamilov believes that on the example of the Ingush rally the system of prevention and spread of similar situations and destruction of the spirit of freedom and justice throughout the country is being worked out. “It’s not a trial, it’s a trial,” he said.
In his opinion, the agreement on border changes, as well as the support for it in the Russian Constitutional Court, made a depressing impression on the Ingush people.
“Almost one tenth of Ingushetia’s territory has been ceded to the neighbouring republic. And this despite the fact that there is so little land in Ingushetia and the population density in the republic is at the level of Moscow and St. Petersburg! People are simply shocked by such manifest injustice. They don’t understand how the authorities can be so cynical,” he said.
Authorities have distanced themselves from solving problems with political prisoners
Today, despite repeated appeals from the public, the authorities are trying to distance themselves from the case in every possible way and say they cannot interfere in the work of the investigating authorities. “Neither I nor the president of our country have the right to interfere in the criminal procedural process,” the republic’s head , Mahmud-Ali Kalimatov, said at a meeting with students at Ingush University. However, he noted that he was aware of the progress of the investigation and of the handling of the criminal case.
The topic of political prisoners resurfaced again during the pre-election TV debates. Yabloko Duma candidate Ruslan Mutsolgov in his speech on local TV called to support political prisoners. “Residents of our republic have a well-developed sense of justice. People who have been under arrest for three years are not deprived of it either,” he said.
On the eve of the election Issa Kostoyev, adviser to the head of Ingushetia, who headed the “United Russia” party’s list of candidates for the seventh People’s Assembly, also made a statement regarding political prisoners and spoke out about the signing of an agreement on the establishment of the region’s territorial boundaries in 2018. This topic, almost three years after Kalimatov’s appointment, was only mentioned publicly by him for the second time. Speaking about the territory of Ingushetia that was seized, Kostoyev said in an interview that “an insignificant part” of it had been ceded to Chechnya. He also noted that to resolve all these issues, “it takes time and, of course, the efforts of all branches of government.”
NGOs and activists fear persecution
The head of the Ingush human rights organization MASHR, Magomed Mutsolgov, noted a decrease in the activities of NGOs in the republic following the arrests of activists.
“Following the Ingush protests, more than forty commercial and non-commercial structures were inspected and searched. Many of them were closed down. Five have been added to the register of organizations that perform the functions of a foreign agent,” he said.
Mutsolgov said many NGOs now do not advertise their activities. “They do not participate in public and political life and therefore are not persecuted. This is a trend in the North Caucasus region, which is now spreading across the country. They do concrete things, help people, while ‘gongo’ – organizations created under the authorities – create the appearance of activity, develop budgets and write reports,” the human rights activist is sure.
Mutsolgov believes that pressure on NGOs significantly narrows opportunities for civil society. “The officials, who are supposed to solve social problems on the local level, are eliminating their competitors in the person of NGOs, which make them look like idlers. Under the aegis of struggle against protests they have new possibilities to press the civil society. The “foreign agent” status is a hundred percent discrimination. Organizations with this label submit more reports and take more time and internal resources to do so. NGO-agents are deprived of many opportunities – they cannot nominate candidates to public monitoring commissions, interact with the authorities. The law on foreign agents was one of the first steps of the vertical of power to neutralize civil society in Russia,” he said.
Magomed Mutsolgov himself has been in exile for three years now for fear of persecution. The chief editor of Fortanga, Izabella Yevloyeva, was also forced to leave Ingushetia due to the threat of persecution.
According to activist Isropil Nalgiev, there are no more politically connected NGOs in Ingushetia. “There are fragments of people’s self-organization of not indifferent people left. Thanks to them and all sympathizers the problem of transferred lands and political prisoners remains the most discussed topic in the republic. By ignoring it, the authorities cannot consolidate their authority here,” Nalgiev believes.
However, the practice of pressure on unwanted organizations has spread throughout Russia. For instance, in June, a court declared FBC* and the headquarters of oppositionist Alexei Navalny* extremist organizations, RBC reported. On September 28 the Investigative Committee of Russia reported that a criminal case was opened against Navalny under Article 282.1 part 1 of the Criminal Code (establishment and management of an extremist community) and under Article 282.1 part 2 of the Criminal Code (participation in an extremist community).
Recall that detentions of protesters, which began immediately after the dispersal of the rally on March 27, continued until March 2021. A total of 51 people were prosecuted for the events in Magas, three of whom have had their criminal cases dropped. According to data provided by the Memorial Human Rights Centre,* 37 people have been convicted in the Ingush case. All the trials are taking place outside the Republic – in Stavropol Krai. “Memorial” considers all seven persons accused of creating an extremist community to be political prisoners: Akhmed Barakhoyev, Musa Malsagov, Ismail Nalgiyev, Zarifa Sautieva, Malsag Uzhakhov, Bagaudin Khautiev and Barakh Chemurziev, Akhmed Pogorov.
*- organizations are recognized as extremist and banned on the territory of the Russian Federation.
** – the organization is included by the Russian Ministry of Justice in the register of NGOs performing the functions of a foreign agent.