20 April 2015, 09:00
Week in the Caucasus: review of main events of April 13-19
Conviction of human rights defender Rasul Jafarov in Azerbaijan; two special operations in Kabardino-Balkaria; refusal to release Krasnodar ecologist Evgeny Vitishko on parole; failed attempt to hold a referendum on all-people's election of the Mayor of Astrakhan; start of the Stavropol court hearing in the case of mass fight in the hospital of Mineralnye Vody; preparations for construction of a bridge across the Strait of Kerch in the Krasnodar Territory, see the review of these and other events in the Caucasus during the week of April 13-19, 2015, prepared by the "Caucasian Knot".
In Azerbaijan, court sentences human rights defender Rasul Jafarov
On April 16, the Baku Court of Grave Crimes completed the trial in the case against Rasul Jafarov, a coordinator of the campaign "Art for Democracy", who was accused of illegal entrepreneurial activities, tax evasion, abuse of office, fraud, and embezzlement on a large scale. The court has found the human rights defender guilty of all charges and sentenced him to six years and six months of imprisonment in a common-security penal colony. Prosecutor asked the court to sentence Rasul Jafarov to nine years of imprisonment. Advocates of the human rights defender called on the court to acquit their client, and after the verdict had been announced, they declared their intention to challenge it. Rasul Jafarov himself, who was recognized by the international human rights organization "Amnesty International" (AI) a "prisoner of conscience", treats the charges against him as groundless and politically motivated.
The verdict of guilty was condemned by Isabel Santos, the Chair of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions, Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, and representatives from the US State Department and the PACE. In connection with the conviction of Rasul Jafarov, the international human rights organizations, including the Human Rights Watch (HRW), the Freedom House, and the AI, urged the European leaders to boycott the opening ceremony of the European Games in Baku, if political prisoners are not released by that time.
Power agents carry out two special operations in Kabardino-Balkaria
During the past week, a regime of counterterrorist operation (CTO) was twice introduced in Kabardino-Balkaria. In both special operations, several people were killed. On April 14, the CTO regime was introduced in the territory of gardening association "Domostroitel" in the Cherek District of Kabardino-Balkaria, adjacent to residential district "Dubki" (Oaks), the south-eastern outskirts of Nalchik. There, according to power agents, they blocked a man, who opened fire on them. As a result of the shootout, the armed man was killed. He was identified as Atmir Kerefov. According to power agents, he organized a channel to deliver weapons to militants. On the same day, the CTO regime was cancelled.
At night on April 16, the second special operation took place in the very city of Nalchik. In one of the multi-storied buildings, power agents blocked an apartment, where, according to them, suspected militants were hiding. The suspects opened fire. As a result of the special operation, two persons - a man and a woman - were killed. The power agents have initially reported on the elimination of Zalim Shebzukhov, one of the militant leaders, engaged in recruiting local residents for going to the armed conflict zone in Syria. Later, it was reported that the killed man was identified as Zaur Prokopchuk, the leader of the so-called "central sector" of militants, an accomplice of Zalim Shebzukhov. And the woman, who was killed together with him, was identified as his girlfriend Tanzilya Uyanaeva.
Krasnodar ecologist Evgeny Vitishko refused in release on parole
On April 15, the Kirsanov District Court of the Tambov Region refused to release on parole Evgeny Vitishko, an activist of the "Ecological Watch for Northern Caucasus" (EcoWatch), who in June 2012 was sentenced to three years of conditional sentence on charges of damaging a fence around the territory known as a "summer cottage" of Krasnodar Governor Alexander Tkachov. The Court has explained its decision by the fact that the activist "failed to repent of the committed crime and to behave better during the year served in the penal colony", as prosecutors and staff members of the federal Penitentiary Service (known as FSIN) insisted. Advocate of Evgeny Vitishko has declared his intention to challenge the court's decision. The advocate treats the court's refusal to release the ecologist on parole as politically motivated.
In Astrakhan Region, Oleg Shein twice fails to organize referendum "For all-people's elections"
Oleg Shein, the leader of the Astrakhan branch of the "Spravedlivaya Rossiya" (Fair Russia) Party, was striving to create an initiative group to collect signatures for a referendum "For all-people's elections". However, on April 13, it was reported that the Election Commission of the Astrakhan Region refused to register the initiative group. The refusal was motivated by an error in the activists' application, since personal data of one of the members of the initiative group were specified incorrectly. The applicants claimed formal approach to the question by the Election Commission and noted that its members could ask to eliminate inaccurate information. That has been already the second attempt, since for the first time, Oleg Shein had announced his intention to initiate a regional referendum to preserve the elections of Mayor and City Duma a year earlier. Then, he also filed an application to the Regional Election Commission, which sent it to the City Duma. However, the deputies recognized the questions proposed for referendum as inconsistent with the local law and rejected the initiative.
In Stavropol, court starts hearing case of mass fight in hospital of Mineralnye Vody
On April 14, the Stavropol Regional Court began a preliminary hearing behind closed doors in the case of the mass fight, which occurred on September 20, 2014, in a hospital in the city of Mineralnye Vody and as a result of which, a local resident got serious injuries and died. This incident caused a great response. After the video records from surveillance cameras were posted on the Internet, the city faced a wave of protest actions and a series of high-profile dismissals. The court has specially arranged and extended a glazed prisoners' dock, since it is to contain 27 people at once. It was decided to consider the case without a jury. Following the results of the preliminary court hearings, the consideration of the case on the merits was scheduled for April 29, and it will be held in public. All the defendants in the case are accused of disorderly conduct committed by a group of persons by prior conspiracy. Besides, four defendants are also accused of the murder committed by a group of persons of hooligan motives. Meanwhile, none of the defendants does plead guilty.
Krasnodar Territory launches preparations for construction of bridge across Strait of Kerch
The KrasnodarTerritory launches the construction of a one-kilometre temporary bridge to transport materials and equipment for the construction of the main bridge across the Strait of Kerch. This information was reported on April 16. The construction of the temporary bridge is to be completed by the end of this summer. At present, according to Roman Starovoitov, the head of the Federal Road Agency, the development of the bridgework project conception is underway. The construction will be carried out by the "Stroigazmontazh" company. At the same time, the works on demining and archaeological surveying of the territory are underway, and construction towns and technological platforms are being built. The bridge is planned to solve the problem of the Strait of Kerch ferry lines, which often cannot be used because of unfavourable weather conditions. Then, the ferry ports gather lines of cars and trucks to go to Crimea and back. In the meantime, the carrier solves this problem by opening additional ferry lines and by increasing the number of ferries released into the sea in favourable weather conditions.