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RFE/RL Journalist Faces Retaliation In South Ossetia

Georgia -- Journalist Irina Kelekhsaeva,

South Ossetian journalist Irina Kelekhsaeva has been subject to pressure from local authorities in connection with reports aired on Ekho Kavkaza, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) Russian-language broadcast unit to the Georgian territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

On February 19, six security agents entered the premises of the Ir radio station where Kelekhsaeva works and carried out a search of her computer and documents. "Among them I recognized employees of the state guards and the personal security service of the president. They were checking my documents, restoring files from the Recycle bin, and also downloaded some files,” Kelekhsaeva told RFE/RL. She was then told by members of the station’s accounting department to resign her position, but refused. “I replied that I love my work very much and see no reason to leave it, and I will not write any statements," she said.

The retaliation against Kelekhsaeva began with critical posts discrediting her on social networks immediately after the publication of her report, “How the President And An Investor Quarreled,” on Ekho Kavkaza on February 16. The report details a conflict between South Ossetian President Anatoly Bibilov and Taimuraz Bolloev, a well-known Russian businessman who is the head of the holding company the BTK group and is one of the territory’s largest investors. Speaker of Parliament Petr Gassiev and President Bibilov were among those who criticized the report on social media, characterizing the information as nonsense.

Other correspondents for Ekho Kavkaza have also been subject to pressure because of their reporting. South Ossetian commentator Tamar Mearakishvili has been virtually under house arrest on criminal charges of perpetrating libel against a political party. According to Ekho Kavkaza, members of the region’s prosecutor’s office have made no secret of the fact that the charges are intended to force Mearakishvili to suspend her cooperation with the station, and with correspondent Murat Gykemukhovym, specifically.