Court releases policeman who fatally shot detained website publisher

Published on 4 March 2010

Reporters Without Borders is deeply shocked by the Ingush supreme court’s decision to release the policeman who fatally shot Magomed Yevloyev, the owner of the news website, on 31 August 2008. By reducing the gravity of the charge on which Ibragim Yevloyev (no relation) was convicted, the court was able to commute his two-year jail sentence to two years of “supervised residence,” which means he will be able to resume working as policeman.

“The two-year jail sentence on a ‘negligent homicide’ charge was already deeply unsatisfactory but this change in the charge minimises the responsibility of Ibragim Yevloyev and the rest of the police in Magomed Yevloyev’s death even more,” Reporters Without Borders said. “His release is a total provocation and shows the Ingush judicial system’s complete lack of independence.”

The press freedom organisation added: “Coinciding with a state visit to France by Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, the Ingush supreme court ruling has highlighted the fragility of Russia’s progress in human rights. Nicolas Sarkozy praised Medvedev’s ‘commitment to the rule of law, respect for the law, judicial security and defence of human rights,’ but if Medvedev wants to show he deserves this praise, he must put an end to impunity for those who murder journalists and human rights activists in the Caucasus.”

Magomed Yevloyev’s father, Yakhya Yevloyev, has said he will appeal against the Ingush supreme court’s decision all the way to the European Court of Human Rights. “For the time being, I am in a state of shock,” he said. “I have never seen such a denial of justice as this. I think we are going to appeal to the Russian federal supreme court even if we do not expect a fair decision.”

An opponent of the Ingush government as well publisher of the news website (now, Magomed Yevloyev was shot in the temple in an interior ministry vehicle shortly after being illegally detained on his arrival at Magas airport on 31 August 2008. He was left unconscious a few hours later at the entrance to a hospital, where he died soon afterwards. The police said he was shot accidentally as he tried to grab an officer’s firearm.

The victim’s colleagues and family had petitioned the courts for his death to be investigated as “murder with premeditation” under article 105 of the Russian criminal code. The petition was rejected by the supreme court, which ruled that investigators should continue to treat the case under article 109 § 2 as “homicide through negligence, as a result of inappropriate professional behaviour.”

This was the charge on which Ibragim Yevloyev, the Ingush interior minister’s former chief bodyguard, was eventually convicted.

But in its ruling on 2 March, the supreme court went one step further by reducing the charge to just “homicide through negligence” under article 109 § 1 of the criminal code. Judge Tagir Azdoyev ruled that Ibragim Yevloyev had been right to take his firearm’s safety off just before the “accident” because the police had been warned that Magomed Yevloyev’s supporters might try to free him.

The sentence of “supervised residence” has only just been introduced into the Russian criminal code and it is not yet known how the Ingush authorities will implement it.

At the time of his death, Magomed Yevloyev was regarded as one of the leading opponents of then Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov (who was replaced two months later by Yunus-bek Yevkurov). Chechnya’s neighbour in the North Caucasus, Ingushetia has for the past 10 years been in the grip of a low-intensity civil war marked by killings, kidnappings and other forms of violence.

Magomed Yevloyev’s successor as’s publisher, Maksharip Aushev, was himself shot dead by police at checkpoint in Nazran on 25 October 2009.