MOSCOW, December 21 (Alexey Eremenko, RIA Novosti) – Chechen authorities shut down a local newspaper after its editor-in-chief asked Russian President Vladimir Putin a question – although they maintain it was not censorship.
Belkis Dudayeva, who heads the Put Kadyrova (“Kadyrov’s Way”), got the floor for a couple of minutes during Putin’s 4 1/2-hour-long press conference in Moscow on Thursday.
She managed to squeeze in two questions, one about the cause of unrest in the North Caucasus, which is plagued by Islamic insurgency, and the other about cuts at the state-owned Kavkaz radio.
Although Putin offered plenty of headline-grabbing comments on Thursday, his replies to Dudayeva were unremarkable, as he noted the decrease in terrorist attacks and praised local media for their contribution.
The high point was when he snapped at journalists sniggering at the allegedly sycophantic name of the newspaper, titled after Akhmad Kadyrov – the former Chechen rebel who became the republic’s president under Putin, pacifying it with an iron fist until he was killed in a bomb attack in 2004.
Putin was, however, soon upstaged by the Chechen authorities, who announced within hours that Put Kadyrova had been closed by its publishers, the Itum-Kalinsky district administration.
The paper used Kadyrov’s name without permission, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov – son of the late Akhmad Kadyrov – was cited as saying by the Chechen government’s website.
Dudayeva also asked “provocative questions” unrelated to district affairs, her paper’s area of focus, the report said, without elaborating.
Officials at the Itum-Kalinsky district – a swath of mountain terrain with a population of 7,000 – could not comment on Friday, a deputy district head admitting he learned about the closure from the RIA Novosti reporter. Paper representatives could not be reached for comment.
But a spokesman for Kadyrov Jr. told RIA Novosti that the paper was, indeed, shut down on the order of the district head.
Put Kadyrova was not authorized to use Kadyrov’s name, Alvi Karimov confirmed on Friday.
But even worse, the paper squandered its chance to put a question to the Russian president on an “insignificant” radio station where Dudayeva is moonlighting, Karimov said.
“She should have asked instead about plans to construct a ski resort in Itum-Kale…or about how to solve regional problems,” he said.
But Karimov denied the allegations that the closure was censorship.
“This wasn’t censorship. We simply have our own laws and traditions, and we act based on what is sensible,” Karimov said.
He tried to defuse the situation somewhat by saying the paper – which he called an “irregular rag” that mostly reprinted district administration’s directives – would likely reopen under another name.
But Dudayeva said on Friday she has no wish to re-launch Put Kadyrova under another name.
She added that Chechnya was no worse than other Russian regions in terms of media freedom.
Russia ranked 172th of 197 countries in the 2012 Freedom of the Press report by US watchdog Freedom House.
Chechnya was rebuilt under the Kadyrovs, who forced local insurgents out into neighboring republics. But critics accuse Ramzan Kadyrov, 36, of building a regime riddled with rights violations and of establishing a “cult of personality” that is a significant drain on federal funding, which accounted for 87 percent of the republic’s budget in 2012.
Ramzan Kadyrov was implicated in the 2006 murder of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, his ardent critic, though he denied the allegations, which were never raised in court.
Kadyrov Jr. is also known for his flamboyant lifestyle and provocative statements: his parties feature Western celebrities such as Seal, Hilary Swank and Jean-Claude Van Damme, and he has called for the people who attended opposition protests in Moscow earlier this year to be jailed.