29 December 2014, 09:00
Week in the Caucasus: review of main events of December 22-28
Verdict on 2005 Nalchik attack case; reduction of prison term of ex-Mayor of Astrakhan Mikhail Stolyarov; decision to set up parliamentary commission in Georgia to investigate the works in the Sakdrisi-Kachagiani mine; hunger strike of residents Novolak District of Dagestan with demand to solve their land problem; pipeline accident in the Krasnodar Territory, resulting in sea pollution; municipal elections in Azerbaijan and search and closure of Radio Liberty office in Baku, – see the review of these and other events in the Caucasus during the week of December 22-28, 2014, prepared by the "Caucasian Knot".
KBR's SC announces verdict in case of attack on Nalchik in 2005
On December 23, the Supreme Court (SC) of the Kabardino-Balkarian Republic (KBR) announced the verdict in the case of the attack on Nalchik on October 13, 2005, during which 35 law enforcers and militaries, 15 civilians and 95 attackers were killed. The trial that began back in 2008, ended in a conviction for all the defendants. Five of them were sentenced to life imprisonment; three were released because of expiry of their awarded terms. The rest of the defendants were sentenced to prison terms from 9 to 23 years. The court has also ruled to collect 150-300 thousand roubles from each of the defendants as judicial expenses. Besides, by the court decision all the defendants were acquitted on charges of murder and have the right to rehabilitation under this article.
Advocates of a number of convicts announced their intention to appeal against the verdict. Russian rights defenders called the verdict to some figurants unfair and unduly harsh, and expressed the opinion that the verdict would not contribute to stabilization of the situation in Northern Caucasus. According to the Human Rights Centre (HRC) "Memorial", those unjustly accused, are, in particular, Rasul Kudaev and Kazbek Budtuev, while in relation to Rasul Nogerov, Albiyan Malyshev and Muradin Kardanov there are good reasons to believe that they did not participate in the events at all.
In Astrakhan, court cuts imprisonment of ex-Mayor Mikhail Stolyarov down to nine years
On December 25, the Astrakhan Regional Court considered the complaint lodged by the temporarily dismissed Mayor of Astrakhan Mikhail Stolyarov, earlier convicted for taking a bribe to 10 years in a high security colony. Stolyarov treated the proposal of the bribe to him as a successful provocation and refused to plead guilty. At the beginning of the court session, the court decided to reject the petition of the defence about re-interrogation of the main prosecution witness entrepreneur Khvalyk, from whom, according to the prosecution, in October 2013, Stolyarov tried to extort 10 million roubles for assistance in allocation of a land plot and a share in the capital of his company. At the session, the court decided to reduce Mikhail Stolyarov's prison term down to 9 years, and to leave the rest of the sentence unchanged.
Georgia sets up parliamentary commission to examine works in Sakdrisi-Kachagiani mine
On December 25, Georgian MPs decided to set up a commission that will investigate the destruction of an ancient mine in the territory of the settlement of Sakdrisi-Kachagiani of the Bolnisi District (region of Kvemo Kartli). The decision was made after a protest action held on December 22 in Tbilisi with a demand to stop extraction of gold from the gold mine, which the court had decided to return the status of a cultural monument, but where the mining continues. The establishment of the commission caused hot debates. The initiative to set up the commission was voiced out by Nino Goguadze, an MP from the "Free Democrats"; it was supported by MPs from the "United National Movement", and by Gubaz Sanikidze, the leader of the Conservative Traditionalist "People's Forum" Party. The MPs of the majority faction – the "Georgian Dream" – opposed the investigation, fearing that its results may be interpreted from the political viewpoint. As a result, the commission was supported by 58 MPs, while 14 ones voted against. The commission, as reported by the Office of the Parliament, will include MPs and experts in the fields of history and archaeology.
Residents of Novolak District of Dagestan go on hunger strike to demand solution of their land problem
Last week, in Dagestan, residents of the Novolak District went on hunger strike demanding to solve the existing land problem of the region. The main demand of the protest launched on December 23 by 34 Shushiya villagers is to return to them, in the form of shares, nine hectares of land located opposite the village of Shushiya along the federal highway, now delivered into lease to third parties. This problem is related to the relocation process of the Lak nationals, who, according to the law "On Rehabilitation of Repressed Nations", were given the right to return to their homeland. People state that they lack basic living conditions due to the lack of land. On December 24, they met Gadji Aidiev, the head of the administration of the Novolak District, who treated the hunger-strikers' demand as fair and assured that within a month the raised issue will be solved. In this regard, on that very day, the protesters suspended their action for a month.
Pipeline accident in Krasnodar Territory results in sea pollution
At night on December 24, the operation of the oil pipeline Tikhoretsk-Tuapse in the Krasnodar Territory was suspended because of depressurization during the test filling in the tube. Because of the accident, some oil got into the sea. According to preliminary estimates of the Open Joint-Stock Company (OJSC) "AK Transneft", which plans to take the oil pipeline into operation, the oil spill made 8.4 cubic meters in the amount of 6-7 tons. The district was put under the state of emergency. On December 25, Vladimir Lybanev, the head of the Tuapse District, announced the liquidation of the oil spill by 90%; and on December 26, the companies "Rosneft" and "Transneft" reported that the oil spills in the Bay of Tuapse that resulted from the accident, had been eliminated completely. The companies referred to a landslide and adverse weather conditions as the reasons of the accident. Various services, involved in the elimination of the spill into the sea, reported that they had gathered over 14 cubic meters of oil and contaminated debris, while the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) released a statement about contamination of 15 km of shoreline and expressed its concern about the threat to life of local birds and animals.
Municipal elections in Azerbaijan and search and closure of Radio Liberty office in Baku
On December 23, Azerbaijan voted at municipal elections and elected 15,035 members of 1607 municipal councils. The voting day was declared a day-off; and the overall voter turnout made 38.93%. Ali Akhmedov, the Executive Secretary of the ruling party "Yeni Azerbaijan", said about a confident victory of candidates from his organization – they scored more than 60% of all the votes. On December 24, the bosses of the Central Election Commission (CEC) stated that no complaints about any electoral violations had been reported, while oppositionists and independent observers reported violations of the law during the electoral campaign and on the voting day. The "Musavat" Party declared "a total election falsification" and non-recognition of the outcomes thereof. On December 26, the CEC announced its decision to recount votes at three precincts because of the violations admitted there. Let us note here that on the eve of the elections experts and activists of opposition political parties claimed that the election campaign for municipal elections took place in an atmosphere of lack of interest to them in the society and pressure on opposition candidates.
On December 26, employees of the Azerbaijani General Prosecutor's Office (GPO) raided the Baku Office of the Azerbaijani Service of Radio Liberty. GPO employees confiscated all the accounting documents, contracts, employment agreements, seals and stamps, and all electronic data carriers and computers. Besides, they confiscated the main server of the radio station. According to Eldar Sultanov, the head of the press service of the GPO, the search was conducted within the criminal case, investigated by the Investigating Department for Grave Crimes of the GPO. The search lasted for more than 6 hours, after which the office was sealed up and placed under police supervision. Zeinal Mamedli, the Editor-in-Chief of the Baku Bureau of Radio Liberty, said about mass detentions of journalists, who are forcibly brought to the GPO. Reporter Vyusalia Mekhtieva said that she was interrogated as a witness in the case against a number of local and foreign NGOs. Thorbjorn Jagland, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, has already issued a statement, in which he noted that the search and the subsequent closure of Radio Liberty in Baku had caused concern for the freedom of speech in Azerbaijan.