Vienna, December 16 -- Ingushetia.ru, an independent news portal that the authorities in that republic have long sought to close down, has successfully parried the latest move of the government there -- a death threat to the father of the owner of this Internet operation.
After launching denial of service attacks against Ingushetia.ru, hacking it to redirect visitors to a pornographic site, and opening criminal cases against the site’s owner, the Ingush government thought it had found the perfect way to close this site, which often reports news about conditions there that the authorities do not want covered.
The government sent a group of people to visit Yakhu Yevloyev, the 64-year-old father of the owner of the site, and told him to tell his lawyer son, Magomed, to close it down. Given that in Ingush society, a father’s word is law, the son agreed, especially since the advice to the father was accompanied by a death threat.
In reporting this threat on December 12, Ingushetia.ru said that the father told the son that the latter had to act because as a result of the site’s news coverage, he now had “so many enemies” that he “could be killed at any moment.” (See also, the broader discussion of such pressure at http://www.novagazeta.ru/data/2007/95/24.html.)
But to muddy the waters and make it appear that Magomed had done a deal with the authorities on this point, the Ingushetia government at the same time dropped one of two charges against Magomed, although they have left one in place presumably to be in a position to use it against him if he has not done what they want.
That may soon turn out to be the case: Although Magomed Yevloyev himself gave up editorial control of the site this week, he transferred the operation of Ingushetia.ru to a group of activists who pledge to continue the site’s operation, hard-hitting reporting and editorial line (http://grani.ru/Politics/Russia/Regions/p.131183.html).
So far as one can judge from stories on the site this week, they appear to be doing so, although Yevloyev has expressed concern that none of those now involved is a professional journalist and that there is thus a danger that the officials may be able to manipulate them in other ways now that the threat officials hoped would work has not.
In covering this case of official pressure, Kommersant suggested that there may be an additional reason for what is going on. Journalists at the Moscow paper noted that Yevloyev uses an internet service provider based abroad, in this case, the United States (http://www.kommersant.ru/doc.aspx?DocsID=835254&print=true).
If that is the case, then a significant number of other independent news sites in the Russian Federation, with IP services based abroad and thus generally beyond Moscow’s reach, may see the authorities try a similarly brutal approach to intimidate or close them down.
That should disturb everyone concerned about media freedom and freedom more generally in the Russian Federation, but the clever moves of the Ingushetia.ru site’s operators suggest that in conflicts of this type, there are some steps journalists and activists can take that will allow them to continue to operate.
The question, of course, is how long these courageous people will be able to do so before the Russian authorities try something new and possibly even more nasty against them than issuing death threats to the father of a site owner as pro-Kremlin officials have done in this particular case.