27 July 2009, 23:50

Week in the Caucasus: main events in July 20-26

Consequences of the murder of human rights activist Natalia Estemirova, new kidnappings and murders in "hop spots" of North Caucasus, visit of US vice-president Joseph Biden and subsequent decisions of the authorities and opposition, new manifestations of fight against freedom of thought in Azerbaijan - look up these events in the review of the week from July 20 to 26 prepared by the "Caucasian Knot".

HRC "Memorial" after the murder of Estemirova: colleagues mourn, Medvedev condoles, Kadyrov goes to court

The kidnapping followed by murder of Natalia Estemirova, employee of the Human Rights Center  "Memorial" in Chechnya, continues to draw a wide response in Russia and beyond it, remains a topic of active discussions and the subject of new statements by human rights organizations, representatives of public and authorities. A number of new events dedicated to the human rights activist have been held. The participants expressed their protest in connection with the murder and demanded exposure of the crime.

Actions dedicated to the memory of Natalia Estemirova were held on July 22 and 23 in Moscow, Kaluga and Prague. Human rights activists also moved an initiative and a call to support the daughter of the murdered  Natalia Estemirova by opening for the purpose a bank account to the name of Svetlana Estemirova, the aunt and future guardian of the 15-year old Lana Estemirova.

Last week, well-known public figures of Russia and other countries responded to the murder of their colleague by a series of new comments. Specifically, Mary Robinson, president of the International Commission of Lawyers calls the occurrence "another tragic example of a cold-blooded murder of a brave human rights activist", representatives of Chechen NGOs consider the murder of Estemirova as provocation aimed at instigating a conflict between Chechnya and Ingushetia, while deputy director of the Moscow office of the Human Rights Watch organization Tatiana Lokshina lays the responsibility for the death of Estemirova on all those who knew her and worked with her.

F. Petre, employee of the International Federation for Human Rights reports that the murder of Estemirova has roused Russian emigration in Paris and inspired French human rights activists to active moves. The Federation of Circassian Khase in Turkey which includes representatives of Caucasian nations expressed condolences to Estemitova's relatives and condemned the organizers and executors of the murder. Human rights activists of South Caucasus have called on the Russian authorities to conduct a careful and unbiased investigation.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sent to the Grozny office of HRC "Memorial" a telegram with condolences on the occasion of death of Estemirova and assured her colleagues that the crime would be investigated very carefully and the criminals punished.

In his turn, Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov used a lawyer to address the Moscow department of internal affairs with a request to initiate a criminal case against Oleg Orlov, chair of the HRC "Memorial", in connection with the statements by Orlov about the responsibility of Kadyrov for the murder of Estemirova. The application was filed by the department of internal affairs for consideration on July 20. The Kadyrov's lawyer also prepares a law suit against Orlov.

So far, the investigation of the criminal case on kidnapping and murder of Natalia Estemirova has yielded no specific results, although the investigators have managed to get some progress. Within the investigation, three witnesses have been found and a group of suspects defined.

Independent UN human rights experts have offered the Russian government assistance in the investigation of the murder of Estemirova. However, the RF MoFA stated that such practice runs counter to the Russian legislation.

New terrorist acts, murders and kidnappings in Chechnya and Ingushetia

On July 26, exactly 100 days elapsed since the moment of canceling an almost ten-year counter-terrorist operation (CTO) in Chechnya. However, instead of a stabilized situation in the republic, a fast growth of terrorist acts, murders and kidnappings is observed as testified by a comparative analysis of figures during the periods of 100 days before and after canceling the CTO. Important events of such character were registered in Chechnya during the last week, too.

For instance, on July 21, it became known that during 2-3 previous days at least six or seven people were illegally detained on the Chechen territory. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, in the course of a special operation in the village of Goity, Urus-Martan district, Chechnya, six militants were killed and five militiamen wounded. On July 26, a new terrorist act was committed at a public place in Grozny by a suicide bomber, resulting in the death of four militiamen and a Turkish citizen.

Last week Batyr Albakov, 26, claimed to be leader of militants and kidnapped on July 10, was killed in Ingushetia. According to people who saw Albakov's body at the funeral, there were traces of torture on his body.

Shooting at militiamen and explosions in public places continue in the republic. Armed attacks at trade outlets have become more frequent: during July 23-24 two such incidents occurred, the second attack resulted in the death of two women.

Ingushetia president Yunus-Bek Evkurov in his first public interview after the attempt on his life on June 22 called on militants from his hospital bed to stop terror voluntarily and declared that otherwise inevitable punishment was in store for them.

Biden's visit to Georgia: both authorities and opposition satisfied

US vice-president Joseph Biden came to Georgia on a two-day visit on July 22 and 23. He held meetings in Tbilisi with the country's president Mikhail Saakashvili, MPs, leaders of opposition and non-government human rights organizations.

Biden's visit to Tbilisi has already been called historic and very important. Both the authorities and opposition in Georgia positively assess its results and the statements which Biden made during the two days of his stay in Tbilisi. Specifically, after the visit the opposition expects from the authorities "liberation of the country's democratic institutions" and reforms, while Saakashvili is happy with the assurance by Biden that USA supports Georgia on the issues of its territorial integrity and its strive to join NATO.

Extreme safety measures were undertaken in Tbilisi in connection with the Biden's visit: the police removed the "prison cells" of the opposition from the streets adjoining the parliament, and on the evening of July 23 traffic was resumed along Rustavely Avenue which had been stopped on April 10 due to actions of protest by opposition.

On July 24, the day following the completion of Biden's visit, Levan Gachechiladze, one of opposition leaders in Georgia, announced during a meeting cancellation of the daily meetings of protest by the opposition in front of the Georgian parliament building.

In its turn, the Georgian parliament decided to start working out amendments to the legislation which would give an opportunity to the deputies of the opposition who had given up their mandates in June 2008 to return to the country's supreme legislative body. The Georgian authorities hope to resolve political discord in the country by shifting the dialogue "from the streets to the constitutional framework".

Authors of the video "about mulish policy" remain under arrest in Azerbaijan

Wide resonance among representatives of democratic community in Azerbaijan and beyond it was caused by the refusal of Baku court of appeal to release from arrest two independent bloggers, Adnan Gadzhizade and Emin Milli, who had placed in the internet a video about "mulish policy" in which Gadzhizade in the costume of a donkey holds a press-conference before journalists and allegorically speaks about anti-democratic processes in Azerbaijan.

On July 23, Sabail district court of Baku dismissed the complaint of the young bloggers Gadzhizade and Milli against the actions of Sabail district police officers.

On July 23, the MoFA of Sweden chairing the European Union made a statement condemning the arrest of the young activists in Azerbaijan. On July 22, on Azeri National Press Day, an action of protest was held in Paris in front of the Azeri embassy against suppression of rights and freedoms in the country.

On July 25, in Azerbaijan, activists of youth and pubic organizations held a Forum of protest against the arrest of bloggers Adnan Gadzhizade and Emin Milli. About 50 people gathered for working out a unified strategy and tactics to defend the rights of Gadzhizade and Milli.

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