A vocal critic of the Kremlin's policies in the Caucasus died yesterday from a bullet wound to the head while in police custody, Interfax reported, quoting prosecutors. Magomed Yevloyev founded and ran the website ingushetiya.ru, a major source of information in the region, and was a prominent opponent of the pro-Kremlin president of Ingushetia, Murat Zyazikov. Prosecutors have opened a preliminary manslaughter investigation after Mr Yevloyev was shot in a police car in Narzan, the capital of volatile Ingushetia, a mostly Muslim region that borders Chechnya, Russian media reported.
A spokesman for the prosecutor's office, Vladimir Markin, said "an incident" took place after Yevloyev was taken into a police car "resulting in a shooting injury to the head and he later died in hospital", Interfax reported. The website meanwhile reported that Mr Yevloyev was killed after police arrested him in Narzan. "Magomed Yevloyev was arrested today in Ingushetia and was killed", said a report posted on www.ingushetiya.ru.
The website is among the most visited for news on Ingushetia and had openly criticised the Ingush president who had often threatened to shut it down. Ekho Moskvy radio separately quoted local Ingush the opposition activist Magomad Khazbiyev as saying that the website founder was arrested at gunpoint after his arrival in Narzan. Mr Yevloyev arrived on a flight that was also carrying the Ingush president.
"Yevloyev was arrested as he stepped off the plane," Mr Khazbiyev said. Mr Zyazikov was accompanied onto the tarmac "by his entourage, followed by that of the interior minister". Individuals from among the latter group whisked away Mr Yevloyev at this point, according to Mr Khazbiyev. A source at Ingush police said the website founder had been detained as part of a criminal investigation and was being taken to a police station, Interfax reported.
"Along the way, a shot was involuntarily fired from a policeman's gun and the bullet hit Yevloyev's head," the source was quoted as saying. Russian justice authorities had ordered in June that the site be shut down, saying it was disseminating "extremist" views. Moscow had also blocked access to the site late last year after it called for protests against the local administration which the opposition accuses of corruption and mismanagement.
Ingusetiya.ru's chief editor, Rosa Malsagova, earlier this month announced plans to seek asylum in France. "This was a murder that must be solved," said Alexander Cherkassov, from the Russian rights group Memorial. The Paris-based media-rights watchdog, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), said they were "profoundly shocked", according to a statement. "It is essential that the international community, and especially the European Union, demands an explanation for what really happened," it said.
A Moscow-based spokeswoman for Human Rights Watch (HRW), quoted by Interfax, said that Mr Yevloyev's death, "in such suspicious circumstances, can only raise questions". The Russian opposition activist Ilia Yashin accused Mr Zyazikov of "being behind the murder" of the website founder, in an interview with Ekho Moskvy radio. "If (Zyazikov) is once again cleared of guilt, that would mean that (the Russian prime minister Vladimir) Putin and (President Dmitry) Medvedev are incapable of restoring order to the republic, and that Ingushetia is de facto not a part of Russia."
Ingushetia has been grappling with mounting security problems. While major combat operations against separatist rebels in neighbouring Chechnya have ceased, Ingushetia and other nearby provinces remain plagued by shoot-outs between Russian security services and local guerrillas. *AFP