Editor of News Portal Flees Country

The editor of the Ingush opposition web site Ingushetiya.ru has fled the country and will seek political asylum in a European country, a lawyer for the site said Wednesday.

Roza Malsagova, 51, traveled to Germany three weeks ago with her three teenage sons, lawyer Kaloi Akhilgov said, though he refused to say in which country she would apply for asylum.

Malsagova has a Schengen visa and may have left Germany, Akhilgov said.

Malsagova, who has run the beleaguered web site since December, did not respond to e-mailed questions sent Wednesday. Repeated calls to Ingushetiya.ru owner Magomed Yevloyev went unanswered.

The web site remains one of the only information sources criticizing Ingush President Murat Zyazikov in the mainly Muslim region bordering Chechnya, and it is known for its investigations into local corruption.

It has accused Zyazikov of corruption and of giving law enforcement agencies free rein to abduct, torture and kill local residents suspected of ties to Islamist rebels.

In June, Moscow's Kuntsevsky District Court ordered that Ingushetiya.ru be shut down for publishing extremist statements, though the site is still operating while the Moscow City Court prepares to consider its appeal.

Last month, investigators also opened a criminal case against the site on charges of inciting ethnic hatred.

Akhilgov said Ingush authorities were behind the probes into the web site.

"They open cases against us there and then pass the paperwork on to Moscow investigators," Akhilgov said.

Malsagova, a former actress and the top director at the Ingush Dramatic Theater, claimed in an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty last April that men dressed in camouflage had threatened her and her children at her home in Nazran, Ingushetia's main city.

Malsagova moved to Moscow last November after large-scale protests in the republic led to an intimidation campaign against the opposition leader by local law enforcers, Akhilgov said.

Tatyana Lokshina, a researcher with the Moscow office of Human Rights Watch, said Malsagova had told her in June that the crackdown on the web site could result in persecution of her relatives in Ingushetia.

"But she obviously didn't plan to leave the country then," Lokshina said.

The Ingush opposition on Monday submitted 80,000 signatures to President Dmitry Medvedev asking him to dismiss Zyazikov and appoint former Ingush President Ruslan Aushev.

Ingushetiya.ru was a major organizer in the signature campaign, and its employees fear retribution from Zyazikov's administration, Lokshina said.

Malsagova has strong case for obtaining political asylum in a European country, said Irada Guseinova, an analyst with the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, a Moscow-based media watchdog.

"Violence against journalists in Ingushetia is a well-known and well-documented fact," Guseinova said, citing the November abduction and assault of Ren-TV journalists by uniformed men.

No one has been punished in the incident, though Zyazikov has pledged to personally oversee the investigation.

Malsagova could easily convince foreign governments that her life and the lives of her family members are in danger, because Ingush authorities have demonstrated that "any means are acceptable" in dealing with the media, Guseinova said.

Ingushetiya.ru's editorial board planned to meet Wednesday evening to replace Malsagova, Akhilgov said.