September 18, 2020

Ingush journalist gets three years on trumped-up drug charge

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Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the three-year prison sentence that Rashid Maysigov, a former reporter for the Ingush news website Fortanga, received on 16 September  on a trumped-up drug possession charge, and calls on the Russian justice system to recognize his innocence by quashing his conviction.

In a case dating back more than a year, a court in Magas, the capital of the southwestern republic of Ingushetia, convicted Maysigov under article 228 of the Russian penal code on evidence regarded by his defence as completely fabricated. His lawyer announced his intention to appeal or even take the case to the European Court of Human Rights.

Rashid Maysigov was charged after a search of his home in July 2019 in which a packet containing white powder was “discovered” in a pocket of his trousers. After he spent nearly four months in preventive detention, during which he said he was tortured, a court ordered him transferred to house arrest.

He was arrested immediately after this Wednesday’s sentencing and – after deduction of the time already spent in detention and house arrest – is scheduled to serve two years and three months in prison.

“There are absolutely no grounds for convicting Rashid Maysigov,” said Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “This entirely fabricated case speaks to a desire to suppress criticism in the North Caucasus. The heroin was found ‘by chance’ in a pair of trousers he had been ordered to put on. The authorities in charge of the investigation were unable to prove that it belonged to him because tests on his hair showed no trace of the drug. We regard this as a Golunov-style fabrication and call for a review of the case.”

Maysigov stopped working for Fortanga in June 2019, after receiving anonymous threats in connection with his journalism. The website, which had extensively covered the widespread protests in Ingushetia in the autumn of 2018 and spring of 2019, was blocked by Roskomnadzor, the federal agency for the surveillance of communications and mass media, the day after Maysigov’s arrest.

Maysigov is facing a second trial on a charge of publicly calling for the violation of Russia’s territorial integrity. The charge is based on leaflets supporting Ingush separatism found in his home, of which he denies being the owner. The next hearing is scheduled for 30 September.

Russia is ranked 149th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.