Vienna, September 26 – Russian officials yesterday closed the Ingushetiya.ru site, which had belonged to murdered Ingush opposition figure Magomed Yevloyev on the basis of an earlier court decision, but the editors of the last independent news portal in that North Caucasus republic immediately registered their site outside the .RU domain and continue to be online.
The proximate cause of yesterday’s move appears to have been the refusal of Rosa Mal’sagova, the chief editor of the site, who several weeks ago fled to France to avoid persecution by the government of Murad Zyazikov, to remove from the site the list of 13 people the opposition believes were responsible for Yevloyev’s murder.
Musa Pliyev, the lawyer for the site, however, told journalists that the site had received a letter from “the Regional Center for the Registration of Domain Names” yesterday saying that it was closing the site on the basis of the “decision of the Kuntsevo District Court [in Moscow] on July 6, 2008” (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/newstext/news/id/1229662.html).
Pliyev said that in fact the regional center was acting arbitrarily because the Kuntsevo decision had not ordered officials to lift the registration of the Ingushetiya.ru site but rather to change the site’s editorial board and thus the content of the site, two things long sought by Zyazikov.
But the center’s order, he continued, will not prevent the site from continuing to operate on the dot ORG domain with the same editors and writers and the same editorial policy. That is especially likely since the site is already hosted by an Internet provider abroad and chief editor lives in France, presumably beyond the reach of Ingush or Russian officials.
This latest action highlights three important things. First, at least some Russian officials will continue to act arbitrarily and illegally rather than on the basis of decisions of the courts in their dealings with society, an indication of just how far that country still is from having the rule of law that its leaders and their supporters like to suggest Russia already has.
That is especially so in cases like this where officials such as Zyazikov have a direct interest in covering up their crimes or the crimes of those who act for them. Despite the efforts of the Ingush head and his Moscow supporters to muddy the waters, all the available evidence suggests that he and his minions are directly responsible for Yevloyev’s murder.
Second, such officials are going to have a far more difficult time controlling the Internet than they have in intimidating or taking direct control of the electronic or print media. The ability of Internet editors to shift IP providers and domains quickly and easily will allow most to continue to operator if their editors are committed.
That does not mean that this attack on media freedom is not significant: Zyazikov had already succeeded in preventing IP providers inside his republic from carrying the Ingushetiya.ru site. That limited access to the site and forced its operators to print out their pages and post them in hard copy on fences as a new form of “wall newspaper” to get the news out.
And third, the actions of Mal’sagova and the Ingushetia.org reporters still in Ingushetia call attention to the existence of a small but courageous group of people who are prepared to take enormous personal risks to try to ensure that there will still be at least some media outlets that will be able to promote a free media and a free society.
These brave people and the communities they serve inside the Russian Federation deserve not only our admiration but also our support, and Russian moves like this one should prompt serious questions about the decisions of Western countries to cut back or even eliminate international broadcasting to that country.