Russia: the price of independence
Website has lost a second owner in just over a year to violence. Maria Eismont reports
03 Nov 09

Website has lost a second owner in just over a year to violence. Maria Eismont reports, the independent news website, is one of the few if not the only media outlet in Russia that can claim to have overthrown an unpopular regional president. This could have been regarded as a huge success story if not for the price they had to pay: two owners shot dead and an editor-in-chief in exile. Last week’s killing of Maksharip Aushev, a businessman and long-time opposition leader, who took over the website after its first owner Magomed Yevloyev was shot dead in August 2008, showed once again the cost of the freedom of expression in this North Caucasian republic.

It was Friday, October 23, when REN TV reporter Leonid Kanfer talked to his main source of information on Ingushetia, Maksharip Aushev, for the last time. He told Aushev that a story on corruption, filmed by the REN TV crew with Aushev’s help, was due on air on Saturday, in the channels main weekly analytical programme.

“We decided to talk on the phone after the programme,” Kanfer told Index. “But we never did. On Saturday the programme ended late in the evening, and I thought it is better to get in touch on the next day, but on Sunday it was too late.”

When Maksharip Aushev was seen on television accusing former Ingush president Murat Zyazikov’s relatives of corruption on Sunday’s repeat of the program оn REN TV, he was already dead. He was shot from a passing vehicle in the neighbouring republic of Kabardino-Balkaria.

“I am deeply shocked. He was not only a source, but a friend,” Kanfer told Index on Censorship.

The Russian Investigations Committee came out with different versions of the motivations for the murder, including connections with criminal businessmen and revenge over a relationship with a woman, who was sitting in Aushev’s car at the time of the attack. She was seriously injured, and, though she recently regained conscious, doctors say she is still not well enough to testify.

But the majority of observers and human rights activists believe it is clear this murder was related to Maksharip’s political activities.

“I am not ready to speculate who did it,” Kanfer said. “But I have a strong feeling, that there is a connection [between his murder and our news report]. At least chronologically.”

Kanfer’s news report on Ingushetia could easily not have appeared on television at all. A few hours after the journalists had filmed luxury cottages in Barsuki, home village of the former president Murad Zyazikov, a group of people turned up at the hotel where the reporters where staying, threatening to “take care” of them.

REN TV has a record of incidents in Ingushetia, including kidnapping of its reporters from the same hotel two years ago. That time journalists were threatened with, badly beaten and left in a remote place.Kanfer says he took those threats seriously. He called Aushev, described the situation and asked for help.

“We thought he [Aushev] would come with all his people,” recalls Kanfer. “But he came alone to drive us to the airport. And alone he accompanied us to his car, passing the mob, none of whom dared to do anything.”

Zyazikov has been out of office for almost a year is almost a year — soon after protest rallies following the murder of Magomed Yevloyev the Kremlin replaced him withYunus-bek Yevkurov.

However not one of the top officials was convicted for Yevloyev’s killing, and many of the Zyazikov’s government officials remained on their places. The new president announced an uncompromising campaign against corruption and gained the support of many former opposition leaders, including Maksharip Aushev, who announced his resignation as the head of

The website was getting criticism from many of its users for becoming “pro-governmental” instead of continuing to be in the opposition. In August editor-in-chief Rosa Malsagova, a political refugee in France after the death of Yevloyev, announced her resignation as head of editorial team after getting threats from the rebel underground.

However, despite the widely welcomed change of leader the security situation in the republic did not get better, and soon Yevkurov himself became victim of a murder attempt. On his return from recouperating in a Moscow hospital he dismissed the whole cabinet for “unsatisfactory work”.

Magomed Hasbiyev, colleague and personal friend of Yevloyev and Aushev blames Ingush officials. “The guilt lies with the republic’s leadership,” he has been quoted as saying. Unlike his perished friend Aushev he never supported Yevkurov and recently launched another website,, that would follow the traditions of Magomed Yevloyev’s and remain in opposition.

“Two persons succeeded in gaining the resignation of Zyazikov: Maksharip Aushev and Magomed Yevloyev,” well-known Russian political analyst Yulia Latinina said recently on her show on Ekho Movsky radio. “Both of them owned the website Both of them are dead.”