20 June 2011, 23:30

Week in the Caucasus: review of main events of June 13-19

Acquittal in the criminal case on slandering Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of Chechnya, passed by court in Moscow; rallies and hunger strike of Dagestani residents who demand to open traffic in the tunnel connecting the centre of the republic with several mountainous districts; verdict of the Supreme Court of South Ossetia on the initiative of the new term of Eduard Kokoity's office; protest rallies in Baku, – look these and other events in the review of the week of June 13-19, 2011, prepared by the "Caucasian Knot".

Chechnya: court finds no slander in Orlov's words about Kadyrov's responsibility for Estemirova's murder

On June 14, Judge Karina Morozova from District No. 363 of the Khamovniki Court of Moscow, passed an acquittal verdict in the criminal case on slander against Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of Chechnya, and found Oleg Orlov, Chairman of the Human Rights Centre (HRC) "Memorial", not guilty regarding his statements about Kadyrov's responsibility for the assassination of Natalia Estemirova, an employee of the HRC "Memorial" July 2009.

The first court session on this case was held on September 13, 2010. On April 28, 2011, Mr Kadyrov gave his court evidence via video, said that Orlov's utterances about his guilt in the assassination of Estemirova had discredited his honour and dignity, and added that he wanted the human rights activist to be criminally prosecuted. The prosecutor asked the court to fine Orlov by 150,000 roubles, saying that his guilt of committing a crime under the article of "slander" was completely proved.

However, Orlov did not admit his guilt from the very beginning, saying that the HRC "Memorial", where Estemirova had worked for about ten years, associated her murder with the policy of Chechen authorities. The statement of the HRC "Memorial" noted reports that Russia is under state terror, and Ramzan Kadyrov made the work human rights activists impossible in Chechnya.

Mr Orlov's advocate Genry Reznik believes that the court could hardly pass another decision, but the verdict of acquittal was a surprise for the supporters of the defendant, even though none of them had any doubt of his innocence. After the announcement of the verdict Andrei Krasnenkov, the representative of the head of Chechnya at the trial, said that he did not agree with the court's decision and would lodge an appeal.

Dagestan: residents need tunnel connecting centre with mountainous districts opened

On June 14 in the village of Gimry, Dagestan, local residents went on a rally demanding to open unobstructed passage through the four-kilometre-long tunnel "Gimry-Chirkata", which was closed several years ago for reconstruction and through which the road to six mountainous districts of Dagestan runs. Participants of the rally blocked the building of the Irganai HPP (hydroelectric power plant). Some of them went on a hunger strike and blocked the federal highway, making the only demand – to open the traffic through the tunnel during the daylight and carry out the reconstruction at night.

The protesters unblocked the HPP only on June 16 at night due to the compromise achieved about the tunnel opening for 10 hours a day (according to the following schedule: from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. and from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m., the reconstruction will be continued during the remaining hours). However, on June 17 in several villages in Dagestan the rallies demanding the unobstructed passage through the tunnel continued. Residents stopped their hunger strike in support of these demands.

Earlier, residents of mountainous regions of Dagestan had held protests against the closure of the tunnel. On June 10 they sent a letter to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and the leadership of Dagestan asking to open the tunnel by June 10 and promising large-scale strike in the case of non-fulfilment of their demand. On the same day, Magomedsalam Magomedov, the head of Dagestan, decided to open the tunnel for a while.

South Ossetia: no referendum on extension of Kokoity's presidency

On June 14, the Supreme Court of South Ossetia rejected a referendum on the new presidential term for Eduard Kokoity, the incumbent leader of South Ossetia. His second term in office expires in 2011. Several political parties of the republic did not support the idea of referendum. In particular, the plenum of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of South Ossetia believes that amendments to the Constitution of the Republic may cause undesirable confrontation within the South-Ossetian society.

On June 15 Kokoity's supporters broke into the parliament building. As a result, an urgent debate on law enforcement practices and prospects of South Ossetia's development took place between them and the MPs. Some of the deputies decided to resign in protest against the pressure and said that this pressure started when the members of the referendum initiative group began collecting signatures in an attempt to organize a group of MPs similar to that initiative group.

On June 13 Kokoity himself said that, irrespective of the Supreme Court's decision, he would not run for his third presidential term. Earlier, Kokoity also said that he was going to continue his political activity after the presidential election, but not as the head of the republic.

Azerbaijan: new oppositional rally, dozens detained

On June 19 the oppositional Civil Movement for Democracy "Public Chamber" (CMDPC) attempted to hold protest rallies in different districts of Baku, demanding democratic reforms under the slogans "Freedom to Political Prisoners!", "Resign!", "Free elections!"

Some rallies were notable for the form of protest – a flash mob. Thus, in the park named after Hussein Djavid, near the metro station "Elmlyar Akademiyasi", protesters sat on the grass and pretended to rest; then they suddenly jumped up from their places, began to sing and perform the dance of Yally, symbolizing unity. When policemen approached them, they sat on the grass again, showing that they were just resting. This was repeated for several times. Policemen could not apply any measures to the action participants, because young protesters did not pronounce any political slogans and gave no reason for their detention.

The square near the cinema "Narimanov" was announced earlier to be the venue for the rally, and most of the policemen were concentrated there. There and at other rallies, according to oppositionists, policemen detained at least 40 persons.

Earlier, the Baku Mayoralty refused to sanction the oppositional rally in the square near the cinema "Narimanov" and offered to hold a protest action on the city outskirts, in the village of Bibi Eibat. On June 18 the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) of Azerbaijan warned that should the opposition hold an unauthorized action, it would be dispersed.

This is the third large-scale action this year, held by the CMDPC. On April 2 and April 17, policemen broke up unauthorized oppositional rallies in the Baku centre. About 40 persons were sentenced to short-term administrative arrests for participation in these rallies. 15 activists were arrested on criminal charges for violations of public order.

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