14 December 2015, 09:00

Week in the Caucasus: review of main events of December 7-13

Exemption of Yunus spouses from serving prison sentences in Azerbaijan; summary of the results of the referendum on constitutional reforms in Armenia; participation of truck drivers from Volgograd, Stavropol Territory, and Dagestan in truckers strike in Moscow; aggravation of the situation in the Karabakh conflict zone; adoption of budgets for 2016 in Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia; ECtHR's decisions in two cases of natives of Chechnya, – see the review of these and other events in the Caucasus during the week of December 7-13, 2015, prepared by the "Caucasian Knot".

BCA commutes Yunus spouses' real terms of imprisonment to conditional imprisonment

On December 9, the Baku Court of Appeal (BCA) commuted the sentences for Leyla Yunus, Director of the Institute for Peace and Democracy (IPD), and her husband Arif Yunus, who were accused of economic crimes and treason. The real terms of imprisonment for the Yunus spouses (8.5 years of imprisonment for Leyla Yunus and 7 years of imprisonment for Arif Yunus) were replaced with the conditional sentences. The BCA sentenced each of the Yunus spouses to 5 years of conditional imprisonment. Meanwhile, Leyla Yunus is acquitted under Article 320.1 (falsification of documents) of the Criminal Code of Azerbaijan. At the court session held on December 7, the defence of the Yunus spouses asked the BCA to pronounce not guilty verdict at the appeal against the sentences or to sentence the defendants to the punishment not involving deprivation of liberty. The advocate claimed that their clients would not survive in prison. After the BCA pronounced the decision on December 9, the advocates announced that they did not agree with the verdict. However, no decision concerning filing a cassation appeal has been made. In particular, advocate Elchin Gambarov has stated that at present, the priority is the health state of Leyla and Arif Yunus, rather than a cassation appeal against the sentence.

Against background of protests, Armenian CEC announces support of constitutional reforms by referendum results

On December 13, the Central Election Commission (CEC) of Armenia announced the final results of the referendum on constitutional reforms. The reforms stipulate that the country will transfer from a parliamentary system of power, under which the president is to be elected by parliament for seven years and is to be deprived of the right to be re-elected. According to the Armenian CEC, 63.37% voters gave their votes in favour of the constitutional reforms. The CEC has rejected all the motions for recognition of the referendum results as null and void, as requested by the opposition. At the referendum held on December 6, the voting took place against the background of complaints of massive violations at the electoral precincts. Then, almost every day, Yerevan hosted protest actions, which were attended by supporters of the opposition and civil society activists. In total, as of December 11, 14 criminal cases were opened on the reports about violations committed in the course of the constitutional referendum in Armenia. In total, the law enforcement bodies received 461 reports of violations, and materials were prepared under 435 of them. Some of electoral precincts recounted the votes.

Truck drivers from Volgograd, Stavropol Territory, and Dagestan take part in truckers' strike in Moscow Region

Truck drivers from the southern regions of Russia, who have reached the Moscow Region, continue striking together with truck drivers from other regions. They are protesting against the "Platon" system, introduced to collect tolls from trucks for the use of the roads of federal significance. So, on December 13, in Khimki, the protesters held an action "Funeral of the 'Platon' system". The action was attended by truck drivers from the Stavropol Territory, who stated that the "Platon" system will "bury" private carriers. In the afternoon of December 10, at the office of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF), representatives of Dagestan truck drivers on strike in the 92nd kilometre of the Kashira Highway held a meeting with Gennady Zyuganov, Chairman of the CPRF. On December 9, during a meeting in the Moscow Region, truck drivers decided to create the All-Russian Association. The meeting was also attended by truck drivers from Volgograd.

The introduction of the "Platon" system has stroke a serious blow to small businesses in the field of transportation. The tariff of the toll imposed by the new system and the amount of vehicle tax are to be reviewed. This opinion was expressed by experts interviewed by the "Caucasian Knot". Meanwhile, at the press conference held on December 9, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev stated that only a small part of truck drivers declared a strike against the introduction of the tolls from trucks for the use of the roads of federal significance. According to Dmitry Medvedev, the "Platon" system registered 700,000 carriers, offering 85-90 per cent of all transportation services within the country. Truck drivers from Dagestan and Volgograd state that Dmitry Medvedev has mentioned the warmed-up number of the connections to the "Platon" system.

Parties in Karabakh conflict exchanged accusations of shelling and report their losses

Last week, the aggravation in the region of the Karabakh conflict did not disappear. The opposite sides reported on cases of shelling, including with the use of mortars, heavy machine guns and anti-aircraft and missile systems. During the past week, it was reported about at least four soldiers perished there. Thus, on December 12, on the contact line of the armed forces, a soldier of the Nagorno-Karabakh Defence Army was shot and killed by a sniper; on December 11, an Armenian contract soldier was killed in the east direction; on December 9, officials of Stepanakert reported on one more soldier, who got a fatal gunshot wound; and on December 7, the Azerbaijani side reported on the death of its officer. In the week of November 30-December 6, the same number of casualties was reported (besides, one more soldier was wounded, but survived), whereas in the past two weeks, no deaths or injuries were reported from the conflict zone. On December 7, Azerbaijan reported a drone, which was downed recently and which allegedly belonged to the armed forces of Armenia.

Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia adopt budgets for 2016

During the past week, all of the countries of Southern Caucasus adopted budgets for 2016. On December 12, the state budget for 2016 was adopted in the final reading by the Georgian Parliament. The budget of this country has a surplus of 13 million laris (5.41 million US dollars). It was not supported by the opposition "United National Movement" (UNM) and "Free Democrats" Parties. The main complaints of the opposition were directed against the growth of the bureaucracy and the salaries of officials, since the expenditures for the above purposes were expected to be increased by 200 million laris. Besides, the Georgian opposition insisted on a sharp increase of pensions. On December 9, the main financial document of Armenia with deficit of about 3.5% was adopted by the majority of the Armenian Parliament. Meanwhile, the ARF "Dashnaktsutyun" Party refused to vote for the draft of the budget. 97 MPs voted in favour of the adoption of the budget, 12 MPs voted against it, and three MPs abstained. In Azerbaijan, the law on the national budget for 2016 was signed by President Ilham Aliev on December 7. The budget of Azerbaijan also has a deficit, amounting to 9.947 billion manats (9.947 billion US dollars), excluding revenues of the State Oil Fund. Yet at the stage of approval of the financial document, local independent economists have stated that the authorities have appeared to be not ready to the decrease of oil prices, and as a result, the budget figures are in line with those of 2011.

ECtHR pronounces decisions on two cases of residents of Chechnya

On December 8, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) issued two decisions on complaints filed by residents of Chechnya. One of the complaints concerned the brutal murder of Aslan Dudaev, a resident of Grozny, as well as the kidnapping and murder of his father Ali Dudaev in 2002. The ECtHR has revealed the involvement of Russian law enforcers in the above crimes and demanded from the Russian authorities to pay 123,000 euros to family members of the victims. In another case, the ECtHR has also revealed the involvement of Russian law enforcers in the kidnapping of Khasan Sagaev in 2000 and the kidnapping of Rasul Mukaev in 2004. The ECtHR has found out that the above residents of Chechnya were kidnapped by Russian law enforcers and disappeared and that the Russian authorities failed to carry out efficient investigations into the cases of their disappearances. As a result, the ECtHR has obliged the Russian authorities to pay to relatives of the disappeared men the compensations in the amounts of 64,000 and 84,000 euros, respectively.

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