Ingush Activists Under Pressure After Protests Over Chechnya Border Deal

MAGAS, Russia — Police and security forces in Russia’s North Caucasus region of Ingushetia have searched homes of five activists days after mass rallies against a controversial border deal with neighboring Chechnya.

Journalist Izabella Yevloyeva told RFE/RL that the homes of members of the NGO called the Ingush Congress of National Unity — Akhmed Pogorov, Barakh Chemurziyev, Musa Malsagov, Bagaudin Khautiyev, and Zarifa Sautiyeva — were searched on April 3.

Activist Anzhela Matiyeva said to RFE/RL that police took Pogorov and Chemurziyev with them after the searches.

Meanwhile, Internet access was not available on mobile devices across Ingushetia on April 3.

On April 2, five participants in unsanctioned rallies last week were sentenced to 10 days in jail each, and two activists were fined.

On March 27, police forcibly dispersed hundreds of demonstrators in Ingushetia’s capital, Magas, where they staged an unsanctioned protest against the border deal with Chechnya.

The clashes came a day after thousands attended a protest approved by the authorities against land swaps with Chechnya, where demonstrators called for Ingushetia’s head, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, to step down.

Several protesters and police officers suffered injuries in the ensuing melee. Demonstrators left the site after the authorities promised to allow them to hold another rally in five days.

Also on March 27, thousands of protesters blocked a major highway near Ingushetia’s largest city, Nazran, also demanding Yevkurov’s resignation and the cancelation of the land swap deal with Chechnya.

Large protests were held in Ingushetia in September after Yevkurov and the leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, signed the deal behind closed doors.

Yevkurov and Kadyrov said the agreement was approved by the parliaments of both republics several days later, despite protests against what some see as the illegal handing out of territory to Chechnya, Ingushetia’s larger neighbor to the east.

Protesters have called for a referendum on the deal.

On October 30, Ingushetia’s Constitutional Court ruled that the agreement was illegal because “it changes the territory of the Republic of Ingushetia,” something it said requires approval by referendum.

But Yevkurov took the issue to the Russian Constitutional Court in Moscow with a request for support of the agreement, which the court did in December.

The issue has raised concerns about the possibility of a regional conflict in Russia, which is home to a large number of ethnic groups.

Chechnya was the site of two devastating separatist wars from 1994 to 2001, and an Islamist insurgency rooted in those wars spread to Ingushetia and other mostly Muslim regions in the North Caucasus.