Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Russian authorities to acquit Rashid Maysigov, a journalist who has testified at his trial on a trumped-up drug possession charge in Magas, the capital of the southwestern republic of Ingushetia, that he was tortured.
Referring to an article in the Russian constitution that says citizens are not obliged to give evidence against themselves, Maysigov drew laughs from the courtroom when he testified on 18 February: “When I explained my rights under article 51, I certainly didn’t ask to be given electric shocks.”
A former journalist with the Ingush news website Fortanga, Maysigov was taken from his home by uniformed men at dawn on 12 July 2019 and was held for 13 hours before he was finally registered as being in police custody and given access to a lawyer.
The police used this time to force him to unlock his phone and make him sign statements that he was not allowed to read. He says it was during this time that a packet containing white powder was placed in a pocket of his trousers, which he had been forced to remove.
Testimony by an expert witness for the prosecution contained implicit support for Maysigov’s account. The expert said he found no trace of any drug in the hair samples taken from Maysigov after his arrest. The defence has asked the court to examine the video of the search of Maysigov’s home.
“The testimony given by Rashid Maysigov, who was held illegally and given electric shocks, spotlights the disgraceful practices used by the police against critical journalists in Russia, and especially in the North Caucasus,” said Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.
“We condemn an act of torture that went much further than the usual procedural violations and must not go unpunished. This journalist must be acquitted because the charges seem to have been fabricated.”
Maysigov believes he was arrested and mistreated because of his reporting for Fortanga, which was created in 2018 in the wake of protests about a controversial border deal under which Ingushetia ceded part of its territory to the neighbouring Russian republic of Chechnya.
The Russian authorities have clearly had Fortanga in their sights and it was temporarily blocked in July 2019 by Roskomnadzor, the federal agency for the surveillance of communications and mass media. Shortly before his arrest, Maysigov stopped working for Fortanga because he had been receiving anonymous threats.
On 19 November, Maysigov was released from prison into house arrest, which was extended for three months, until 11 March, on 25 December. His trial is due to resume on 5 March.
Russia is ranked 149th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.