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Monday, November 26, 2007

More Journalists Under Siege in Russia

The International Herald Tribune reports:

Five armed men wearing masks and camouflage burst into a hotel in the southern Russian republic of Ingushetia overnight and dragged away three Moscow television journalists and a human rights activist, police and the activist said Saturday. Oleg Orlov, a member of the respected human rights group Memorial, said he and the three journalists were beaten and then abandoned in a field. They made their way to a local police station and were later transferred to the police station in Nazran, the republic's main city, he said, speaking by telephone while still in custody. Orlov was released midday but the journalists from REN TV were held until late Saturday afternoon. Police appeared to want to prevent the journalists from filming an opposition rally that day in Nazran, Orlov said. Two of the journalists bore the worst of the attack, Orlov said. There was particular concern about the condition of correspondent Artyom Vysotsky, REN TV anchor Marianna Maximovskaya was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying.

About 150 people tried to gather for the rally to protest human rights violations in the southern republic, but they were dispersed by riot police. At least three people were detained. The Moscow office of Human Rights Watch said it had received reports that police had used excessive force and several protesters were hospitalized with serious injuries, Interfax reported. A police officer confirmed that the journalists and rights activist were taken from the Assa hotel in Nazran at about midnight and beaten by armed men. But the regional Interior Ministry denied they had been abducted and beaten, calling the claims "a provocation and a dirty insinuation by those who want to destabilize the situation and receive political dividends on the eve of elections."

The journalists were met after their release by Ingush President Murat Zyazikov, who expressed his sympathies, according to people present at the meeting. Orlov said the men in camouflage represented themselves as members of an anti-terrorist unit and forced him and the journalists into a white minibus without license plates. They were driven to the Sunzha district, beaten and then ordered to get out of the vehicle. A statement issued later by his organization, Memorial, said the journalists were barefoot and dressed only in their underwear.

REN-TV was the last independent national television station until it was taken over by a Kremlin-friendly bank earlier this year. The station's journalists have continued to provide some of the most critical reporting in Russia, where the Kremlin has consolidated its control over the electronic media. Ingushetia has been hit by a surge of violence in recent months. Critics of the regional government attribute the violence to anger fueled by abductions, beatings, unlawful arrests and killings of suspects by police and other government forces. Government authorities usually attribute the violence to local militants or fighters from neighboring Chechnya, the site of two separatist wars since 1994.

Amnesty International condemned the Kremlin over the assaults.

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