Memorial: Ingush journalist Rashid Maisigov is a political prisoner
Memorial Human Rights Centre, on the basis of international criteria, considers Rashid Maisigov a political prisoner. We believe the journalist from Ingushetia has been prosecuted and convicted for his exercise of the right to freedom of expression. The aim of the repressive measures against him is to stop criticism of the authorities and to intimidate society. We demand the release of Rashid Maisigov and that those responsible for his prosecution be brought to justice.
Who is Rashid Maisigov and what is he accused of?
Rashid Maisigov was editor of the Fortanga.ORG website and reported on protests against the transfer of parts of Ingushetia to Chechnya. Shortly before his arrest he reported that he had received anonymous threats related to his professional activities and stopped working.
On 12 July 2019, the journalist was detained by the FSB. In the course of an ‘investigation of the premises’, leaflets calling for the unification of Ingushetia with Georgia were ‘found’ in Maisigov’s house in Nazran, and in a ‘body search’ conducted during this operation a sachet of heroin was found in the back pocket of his trousers.
Maisigov’s trial at Magas district court on charges of possessing drugs (Article 228, Part 2, of the Russian Criminal Code) began in December 2019. The defendant himself claimed the heroin was planted on him. However, on 16 September 2020 he was found guilty and sentenced him to three years in a general-regime penal colony.
In January 2020 the FSB laid new charges against Maisigov for incitement of separatism (Article 280.1, Parts 1 and 2, of the Russian Criminal Code). According to the investigation, the journalist posted the following text on the Internet: ‘For the sake of a decent life for future generations there is only one path — to secede from Russia and join the democratic state of Georgia, which is based on the rule of law. We ask the Georgian government and the world community to support our choice and to accept Ingushetia as part of Georgia, to take Ingushetia under their protection and provide Georgian passports for the entire population of the republic.’ In addition, the investigation alleges that Maisigov allegedly prepared at least 38 leaflets requesting that Georgia allow Ingushetia to become part of that country. The FSB claims the journalist distributed them in Nazran and Magas.
Initially, Maisigov stated that the leaflets had been planted on him. Then, however, he pleaded guilty and requested that his case be considered under a special procedure without a trial. The ‘special procedure’ provides for a more lenient penalty of up to two-thirds the maximum term of imprisonment.
Why Memorial considers Maisigov a political prisoner
- The charges of possessing drugs
According to Rashid Maisigov and his relatives, at 6 am on 12 July 2019, armed special services and FSB operatives burst into the journalist’s house. Maisigov was woken up in a room on the first floor, handed his trousers, which he put on, and handcuffed. The rest of the family members were kept in the kitchen and their phones were taken from them to stop them calling a lawyer.
The investigation claims that Maisigov himself opened the door to the law enforcement operatives and was already wearing trousers. They claim that he was not handcuffed.
On 30 July 2019 a video surfaced on the Telegram channel ‘OPER Slil’ showing that at the moment a bag of powder was taken from Maisigov’s back pocket, his hands were handcuffed behind him and special services personnel were standing beside him with automatic rifles. No lawyer or family members were present.
Memorial considers that the so-called ‘inspection of the residential premises’ at Maisigov’s home was in fact an unlawful search. Evidently, this was done in order to deprive him of his right to a lawyer.
After the ‘inspection’ of the journalist’s home, Maisigov was taken to FSB headquarters in Ingushetia. For almost 13 hours neither his parents nor his lawyer knew of his whereabouts. In court, Maisigov described in detail how he was tortured. He was given electric shocks by means of wires attached to his earlobes, subjected to suffocation and threatened with treason charges unless he signed a confession. Maisigov agreed to incriminate himself. Later, during an official interrogation in the presence of a lawyer, he retracted his confession.
The reliability of the results of the examination of the swabs taken from Maisigov’s hands, which allegedly showed traces of drugs, raises serious doubts. All other tests that have been carried out have shown no such traces.
Taken together, all this gives good reason to believe the drugs were planted on Rashid Maisigov.
- Charges of incitement of separatism
As Memorial has repeatedly stated (for example, regarding the cases of Darya Polyudova and Airat Dilmukhametov), Article 280.1 of the Russian Criminal Code (public incitement to violate the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation) has no right to exist in its current wording. We agree with the position taken by Russia’s leading centre for the study of extremism in Russia, the Sova Centre, which considers that the state may only criminalise manifestations of separatism that involve violence or the propaganda of violence aimed at the separation of Russian regions, rather than theoretical discussions about the admissibility of their separation.
The texts attributed to Rashid Maisigov contain no incitement to armed struggle by the Ingush people to join Georgia or calls for an invasion of Russia by Georgian or other armies. They contain no incitement of violence.
In addition, these leaflets were found and seized (and could have been planted) in the journalist’s home in the course of an illegal search, carried out in flagrant violation of the Russian Code of Criminal Procedure and the right to a lawyer. These leaflets are inadmissible as evidence in Maisigov’s case and cannot be used as evidence by the prosecution in court.
Recognition of an individual as a political prisoner or as a victim of politically motivated prosecution does not imply Memorial Human Rights Centre agrees with, or approves of, their views, statements, or actions.
For more information about Memorial’s position on this case, see our website.
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This text is available in the original Russian on our website here.