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Authorities in Ingushetia should prosecute all those responsible for the beating of a leading human rights activist and three journalists.

“This horrific crime has a clear political motive to silence independent voices,” said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director for Human Rights Watch. “More reporting is needed from troubled Ingushetia, not less.”

On the night of November 23, armed men in masks stormed the Hotel Assa in Nazran and abducted Oleg Orlov, head of Memorial, and the REN-TV journalists Karen Sakhinov, Artem Vysotsky, and Stanislav Goryachikh. They were in Nazran to monitor a demonstration, which was violently dispersed by police. The attackers took all their belongings, including laptops, cell phones, clothes, and money.

The assailants told the four men they were suspected of illegal possession of explosives. They then put black plastic bags over the four men’s heads and drove them to the Ingush border with Chechnya. There they brutally beat the four, threatened to execute them, told them to leave Ingushetia, and then abandoned them.

Orlov and the journalists managed to reach the village of Nesterovskaia and eventually gave testimony to police.

Two of the three journalists had to be hospitalized for their injuries.

Memorial told Human Rights Watch that the attackers spoke fluent, un-accented Russian, which suggested they were not local. Memorial also told Human Rights Watch that 30 minutes before the abduction the Hotel Assa’s security staff left the premises.

Ingushetia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs denied any involvement in the incident, calling it a “provocation,” and opened a criminal investigation.

Orlov and the REN-TV journalists were in Nazran to report on a demonstration against the authorities’ inability to counter a wave of murders, abductions, and “disappearances” in Ingushetia.

Between 150 and 250 people, many of them relatives of the victims of recent violence, gathered for the demonstration at the central bus station at about 11:45 a.m. Some threw tomatoes at a small group of police that arrived at the scene to break up the gathering. Later reinforcements, including riot police, fired their weapons into the air and then beat protesters with nightsticks to disperse the crowd. Observers from Memorial told Human Rights Watch they saw the police beating people, some of whom appeared to be teenagers. Police also were seen using electroshock weapons to disperse the crowd.

Several protesters were taken to the hospital, and about 10 were detained by police.

The organizers of the meeting did not obtain a permit for the gathering, though it is not clear whether they had sought one. In the past year, Ingush authorities banned several demonstrations, and last year violently dispersed a peaceful demonstration, injuring several people.

Kidnappings and murders, as well as a rash of unresolved crimes against ethnic Russians, have risen in the past year. According to the Council of Nongovernmental Organizations, an independent information resource center, the murder rate spiked in September and October 2007, with the killing of more than 30 people, 20 of them Ministry of Internal Affairs staff.

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