NAZRAN, Russia, Jan 27 (Reuters) - Russian police have detained and beaten up two journalists who were covering a protest in the southern region of Ingushetia against alleged vote-rigging, one of the reporters told Reuters on Sunday.
Russia is fighting a growing insurgency in the impoverished, mainly Muslim region of Ingushetia, where journalists say they are regularly beaten the local security services.
Riot police fired warning shots in the air and beat protestors who turned up for the rally on Saturday in Ingushetia’s local capital, Nazran, and the offices of a local government owned newspaper were set alight.
The two journalists, Mustafa Kirkiyev, a reporter for Moscow newspaper Zhizn and freelance photographer Said-Khussein Tsarnayev, were detained by police as they approached the burning newspaper office.
"I was detained outside," Kirkiyev said by telephone from the police station where he was taken.
"Policemen pulled us out of the car and started to beat us, there were about ten to 12 people," he said, adding that he was so badly beaten that an ambulance was later called to the cell where he was being detained.
The journalists had a brief appearance in court where they were fined for breaching public order, but the police refused to free them as the judge had instructed. The police and interior ministry declined to comment.
Opponents of local Kremlin-backed leader Marat Zyazikov called the rally to protest against the official results of last December’s parliamentary election which gave the pro-Kremlin party 99 percent of the vote.
The rally organisers said they had gathered signatures from about one fifth of the region’s residents who said they did not vote in the election.
Russian forces are trying to eliminate Islamist militants in the north Caucasus who say they are fighting the Russian Empire and want to set up an independent Islamic state in the region.
Violence in Ingushetia, which borders Chechnya, has soared in recent months fuelled by anger against the local authorities which are blamed for abductions and beatings by armed groups linked to the security forces.
Zyazikov, a former Federal Security Service officer, says the media is exaggerating instability and has accused unidentified forces of trying to stir up trouble.
But reporters say the authorities have placed bans on covering negative news from the region and that journalists who dare to report uncomfortable news face intimidation.
In November, one of Russia’s top human rights activists and a film crew from Russia’s REN-TV channel were abducted from their hotel and beaten by armed men who said they were from the security forces. (Writing by Guy Faulconbridge)