Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the censorship of Fortanga, a news website based in the North Caucasus republic of Ingushetia, in southwestern Russia, which has been blocked throughout Russia since 13 July, and calls on the authorities to stop harassing its staff.
Access to Fortanga is being blocked at the behest of Roskomnadzor, the federal agency for the surveillance of communications and mass media, which often blocks sites in Russia without reference to the courts.
Fortanga was created in the wake of protests triggered by a controversial border deal last October, under which Ingushetia ceded part of its territory to the neighbouring Russian republic of Chechnya. Internet access has been disconnected several times in Ingushetia since the protests began.
On 12 July, the day before the site was blocked, former Fortanga journalist Rashid Maysigov was arrested when masked members of the Federal Security Service (FSB) raided his home, handcuffed him and carried out a search. His mother said the FSB agents “found” a bag containing white powder and leaflets calling for Ingushetia’s unification with Georgia which she had not previously seen.
Placed in pre-trial detention for an initial two-month period on charges of treason and drug possession, Maysigov told his lawyer that the FSB tortured him, subjected him to electric shocks and psychological pressure in a bid to extract a confession. He has nonetheless refused to make a statement and denies any connection with the drugs or the leaflet.
His former colleagues at Fortanga said he stopped working for the website six weeks ago, after receiving anonymous threats in connection with his journalism. Two other Fortanga journalists, Isabella Evloyeva and Zafira Sautiyeva, said they also received threats. Sautiyeva was subsequently arrested on 14 July and has just been placed in pre-trial detention for two months on a charge of violence against the police during demonstrations.
“The blocking of Fortanga, the dubious charges brought against Rashid Maysigov and the threats against his colleagues indicate that media outlets linked to the protests in Ingushetia are being subjected to all-out persecution,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “We call on the Ingush authorities to end this censorship and release Maysigov at once.”
His arrest came just one month after a newspaper journalist, Abdulmumin Gadzhiev, was arrested in the nearby North Caucasus republic of Dagestan on a charge of funding terrorism that was based solely on a statement extracted under torture from a “witness.”
Russia is ranked 149th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.