Vienna, June 8 – In a case that is assuming ever more Kafkaesque dimensions, a Moscow court on Friday ignored existing laws, invoked a decision about which those it affected had not been informed, and used the reports of experts rather than direct evidence to order that Russian internet providers block access to the independent Ingushetia news portal, Ingushetiya.ru.
In response, the site’s editors said that they doubted the Russian government could in fact achieve its goal given that Ingushetiya.ru is hosted by an IP provider in the United States, reiterated their commitment to keeping the site up and running, and announced they would appeal to the European Court for Human Rights (www.sobkorr.ru/news/484917A2B297A.html).
And then in the 24 hours that followed, the site was subjected – unsuccessfully -- to a denial of service attack by Russian hackers (www.ingushetiya.ru/news/14516.html), an action that has prompted observers to say that if the site is closed, it would “transform” Ingushetia itself from a troubled republic “into a [new] hot spot” (www.islamcom.ru/material.php?id=614).
For more than a year, Ingushetia President Murat Zyazikov and his Moscow backers have been trying to shut down a site that routinely informs people there as well as throughout Russia and the world of the problems that republic has been suffering as a result of his shortcomings as a leader.
Zyazikov and his family members, among other things, have hacked the site, threatened the father of the site’s owner with physical violence if the owner did not stop editing the site (he did), created a site with an almost identical name (ingushetiyaru.net) to confuse things, and even forced local IP providers to redirect visitors to a Russian pornography site.
Beginning earlier this year, Zyazikov has tried to use the courts to close the site, routinely insisting that Ingushetiya.ru must be treated as a media site, even though Russian law does not say that websites are, accused it of slander without providing evidence, and charged it with inciting interethnic violence, again without any direct evidence.
In April, a local court in Ingushetia accepted his arguments but did so in a decision that it did not communicate to the operators of the site itself. Indeed, one of the more piquant details of Friday’s proceeding was that the Moscow court invoked the Ingushetia court decision and thus made it public (sova-center.ru/89CCE27/89CD1C9/B30E4CC).
But that was only the most indisputably obvious examples of judicial misconduct by the Moscow court in this case. First of all, the court misapplied Russian laws and the Russian constitution in insisting that the website is subject not only to the same rules as print media area but to censorship as well (forum.msk.ru/material/news/486416.html).
Second, the court accepted the accusation of slander without any evidence being provided or any cross examination of witnesses, again something that violates Russian law and would in most legal systems guarantee a reversal by a higher court – although whether that will happen in any Russian one is far from clear.
And third, as “Gazeta” pointed out yesterday, the court ignored rules of evidence to accept the conclusion of experts that Ingushetiya.ru has posted “extremist” materials on the site – even though the expert report did not specify which materials were extremist or have its experts available for testimony and cross-examination (www.gzt.ru/incident/2008/06/07/063051.html).
As the Moscow paper made clear, what the authorities apparently deem “extremist” in this case were calls for the population to take part in demonstrations against Zyazikov and a its reporting about his misrepresentation of participation rates and support for Moscow’s preferred candidates in the recent Russian presidential and parliamentary elections.
Meanwhile at the other end of the Russian Federation an even more absurd form of censorship is now taking place. A mosque in Krasnoyarsk put outside its doorway a placard reading “There Is No God But Allah!” That prompted complaints from local media, the Russian Orthodox Church, and officials there.
To keep the peace, the local Muslim community decided to put up a different verse from the Koran. Now, instead of the traditional and universal Islamic affirmation of faith, the Krasnoyarsk mosque features a sign saying “Don’t Pray Too Loudly,” perhaps the best possible comment on the situation its parishioners now face (www.islamnews.ru/news-12368.html).