Vienna, August 6 – Roza Mal’sagova, editor of the Ingushetiya.ru internet news portal, has fled her homeland and will seek political asylum in a West European country, the latest indication of Moscow’s rapidly expanding efforts – which parallel those of China and Belarus – to restrict independent news on the Internet.
The report, which appeared on her own site and has been picked up by other Internet portals concerned with web freedom (http://openinform.ru/news/pursuit/06.08.2008/9585), said she had taken her three minor children with her and left Russia as a result of “repressions” visited against her and the site.
It comes only three days after the Russian government announced plans to set up – or expand upon – two entities to monitor and ultimately be in a position to restrict both dot RU domain sites and access by users inside the Russian Federation to sites registered on other domains on the web (www.bit.prime-tass.ru/news/show.asp?id=59368&ct=news).
Mal’sagova’s action is the latest in the more than year-long battle between Ingushetiya.ru, and Murat Zyazikov, the head of the republic government who enjoys what appears to be the unqualified backing of Vladimir Putin, who has decorated him for his work and recently received him in Moscow.
Over that period, Zyazikov has tried a variety of measures to shut down the news portal, ranging from hacking the site itself, rerouting visitors to pornographic sites, creating an alternate site with an almost identical name, and threatening the owners, editors, and their families with physical violence.
Most recently, Zyazikov has involved Russian courts in this effort, obtaining a decision two months ago calling for the site to be shuttered, an order Moscow may not be able to enforce given that Ingushetiya.ru is now hosted not inside the Russian Federation but rather in the United States.
The latest action by Mal’sagova suggests that Zyazikov is continuing to employ physical threats against those connected with the site, actions that may in this case have been triggered by interviews given last week by former Ingush president Ruslan Aushev whom the Ingush people and Ingushetiya.ru support but who seeks to displace Zyazikov.
However that may be, Moscow’ decisions at the end of last week concerning Internet monitoring cast a further dark shadow across what remains as the only more or less free segment of the Russian media – the Internet.
Under the plan – which Moscow hid under a general plan for the extension of Internet activities to regional governments -- the Russian authorities will have two centers for monitoring the Internet, one in the Federal Security Service (FSB) which will track sites registered on the dot RU domain, and a second to be set up within the government to track Internet mass media.
It is unclear whether the main intent of the second is to break down the legal distinction between non-web media outlets which are subject to government regulation at present and media outlets which according to most legal specialists do not fall under the provisions of existing law in that regard. But that is an entirely reasonable reading of what this new action may portend.
At the very least, the flight of Mal’sagova and the creation of such structures suggests that the Internet is going to be the next and perhaps for this historical cycle last battleground over freedom of media in a country which knew little of that in the Soviet past and may again have little of it in a Putin-defined future.