Ren-TV Says Crew Was Beaten

NAZRAN, Ingushetia -- Five armed men wearing masks and camouflage burst into a hotel in Ingushetia early Saturday morning and dragged away three Moscow television journalists and a human rights activist, police and the activist said.

Oleg Orlov, a member of human rights watchdog Memorial, said he and the three journalists were beaten and then abandoned in a field.

They made their way to a local police station and were later transferred to the police station in Nazran, he said, speaking by telephone from custody.

Orlov was released by noon Saturday, but the journalists from Ren-TV were held until late Saturday afternoon. Police appeared to want to prevent the journalists from filming a Dissenters' March in Nazran, Orlov said.

Two of the journalists bore the worst of the attack, Orlov said. There was particular concern about the condition of correspondent Artyom Vysotsky, Ren-TV anchor Marianna Maximovskaya was quoted by Interfax as saying.

A police officer confirmed that the journalists and rights activist were taken from the Assa hotel in Nazran at about midnight and beaten by armed men.

But the regional Interior Ministry denied they had been abducted and beaten, calling the claims "a provocation and a dirty insinuation by those who want to destabilize the situation and receive political dividends on the eve of elections."

The journalists were met after their release by Ingush President Murat Zyazikov, who expressed his sympathies, according to people present at the meeting.

Orlov said the men in camouflage presented themselves as members of an anti-terrorist unit and forced him and the journalists into a minibus without license plates. They were driven to the Sunzha district, beaten and then ordered to get out of the vehicle.

A statement issued later by his organization, Memorial, said the journalists were barefoot and dressed only in their underwear.

Ren-TV was the last independent national television station until it was taken over by a Kremlin-friendly bank earlier this year. The station's journalists have continued to provide some of the most critical reporting in Russia.

Later on Saturday, 200 to 300 people protested in Nazran against police violence and corruption.

"Stop the killings," the crowd chanted. "The murderers of the Ingush have to face justice."

Ingushetia has been hit by a surge of violence in recent months. Critics of the regional government attribute the violence to anger fueled by abductions, beatings, unlawful arrests and killings of suspects by police and other government forces.

Government authorities usually attribute the violence to local militants or fighters from neighboring Chechnya.

The protesters threw stones and wood at police who carried guns and were armed with batons.

"They beat us," a protester who gave his name as Uslan said. "I saw a man hit on the head with a baton. He fell to the ground. I thought he was dead but he got up again."

AP, Reuters