MOSCOW, July 29 Groups of masked men abduct and beat reporters and rights activists with impunity in the Russian republic of Ingushetia, the Committee to Protect Journalists said on Tuesday.
The New York-based watchdog made the comment after the abduction of Zurab Tsechoyev, who edited a human rights website, by 50 masked men last Friday. They beat him and threatened to kill him if he did not leave the region.
"Ingushetia has gained notoriety as a lawless zone where enemies of the press can attack journalists with impunity," CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said in a statement.
Tsechoyev worked for a group called Mashr, which documented and beatings and attacks in Ingushetia. Many people living in Ingushetia blame the Russian security forces for the attacks.
In Russia's north Caucasus, reporters often work for human rights organisations or local advocacy groups.
"The republic's president, Murat Zyazikov, has stood by as journalists and human rights activists have been abducted, beaten, harassed, and threatened with further retaliation if they did not abandon their jobs," the CPJ statement said.
Zyazikov is unpopular in Ingushetia because of spiralling unemployment and worsening violence and has faced public protests that police countered with batons and mass detentions.
His chief press officer declined to comment on CPJ's statement but Ingushetia's official human rights chief, Karim-Sultan Kokurkhaev said Ingushetia took accusations of human rights abuse seriously.
"I have been told that investigators have already opened a criminal case," he said of Tsechoyev's abduction.
Last year masked men burst into a Nazran hotel and abducted a group of visiting Russian journalists and a human rights activist who they beat and then abandoned in a roadside ditch.
Earlier this year, leading opposition figures disappeared.
Security forces are fighting to contain an surge in rebel activity in Ingushetia which borders Chechnya, the centre of anti-Russian fighting since 1994. (Writing by James Kilner; Editing by Alison Williams)