Government authorities in the Georgian breakaway region of South Ossetia have pressured a local radio station to fire a journalist over an article critical of the president.
Irina Kelekhsayeva, an employee of the “Ir” radio station (and occasional Eurasianet contributor), says she came under pressure from Ossetian security services following a report she wrote for RFE/RL titled “Why the President Fought with an Investor.” Soon after its publication, police officers conducted a search of her office in the capital, Tskhinvali.
The journalist claimed in a subsequent interview with RFE/RL that de facto president Anatoly Bibilov took the article as a personal insult. On the morning of February 19, six state security employees entered the “Ir” offices to conduct a search of Kelekhsayeva's computer.
“They looked through my documents and downloaded some files…I don’t know what they were after,” Kelekhsayeva told RFE/RL. “They were there for about an hour and then they suddenly left.”
The offending article focused on the growing conflict between Bibilov and Taymuraz Bolloyev, a Russian businessman who heads the BTK Group holding company.
The businessman opened a clothes factory in the breakaway statelet in 2013, after receiving guarantees that he would be exempt from paying tax in exchange for his investment.
That agreement was brokered by the then de facto leader of South Ossetia, Eduard Kokoity, and initially Bibilov, his successor, continued that support. But then Bibilov unexpectedly demanded that the company should pay back “tax arrears” worth 40 million rubles (about $710,000) as customs duties on the export of its products.
A source told Kelekhsayeva that Bolloyev intends to respond by closing the factory.
Kelekhsaeva reported that Bibilov flew urgently to Moscow on February 15 to talk with the businessman, but that Bolloyev refused to meet with Bibilov and forbade his staff from contacting the South Ossetian leader.
Back in Tskhinvali, Kelekhsaeva says that the day before the police searched the radio station offices, the station's director told staff that police officers approached him demanding she be fired.
After the officers searched her computer, the journalist said she received an email from the station’s accounting department asking her to voluntarily resign.
“I told them that I love my work; that I don’t see any grounds for leaving; and that I will not write any statements,” she said.
Bradley Jardine is a freelance journalist who covers the Caucasus.
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