Editor of azadxeber.org website Nidjat Aliyev. Photo by Aziz Karimov for the Caucasian Knot

18 March 2019, 16:11

Week in the Caucasus: review of main events of March 11-17, 2019

Major pardonings in Azerbaijan; special operation in the Stavropol Territory; death of a Georgian citizen after his detention on the border with Abkhazia; court's decision on a claim filed by Vremenny villagers and meeting of Salafi mosque's delegates with the Prosecutor in Dagestan; hunger strike of Gukovo miners, – see the review of these and other events in the Caucasus during the week of March 11-17, 2019, prepared by the "Caucasian Knot".

Major pardonings in Azerbaijan

On March 16, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev signed a decree pardoning 431 prisoners. According to human rights defenders, the pardon affected 51 political prisoners, including "Nida" activists Ilkin Rustamzade, Elgiz Gakhramanov, Bairam Mamedov, and Gyas Ibragimov, former Public Health Minister Ali Insanov, satirist poet Tofiq Gasanov, Rufat Safarov, a former investigator of the Zardab Prosecutor's Office, journalist Fikret Faramazoglu, Fuad Gakhramanly and Gezyal Bairamly, deputy chairs of the Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan (PFPA), Shiite theologian Zulfugar Mikailov, and Elchin Gasimov, the deputy chair of the movement "Muslim Unity". Such a large number of political prisoners in Azerbaijan have not been released since early 2000s, when the country joined the Council of Europe, the human rights defenders stated. Meanwhile, they noted that the pardon had not solved the problems of political prisoners in Azerbaijan, since 74 people sentenced for political reasons still stay in prisons. The liberated activists have already expressed their intentions to continue their political and public activities.

Special operation in Stavropol Territory

On March 14, in the Shpakovsky District of the Stavropol Territory, two men were killed in a shootout with law enforcers. The police began to chase a car after the people in it did not stop at the request of the law enforcers and started shooting at them. The suspects were killed by return fire. According to the National Antiterrorist Committee (NAC), the killed suspects were natives of the Volgograd Region, who joined the "Islamic State" (IS), a terrorist organization banned in Russia by the court, and came to the Stavropol Territory to organize a terror act. Meanwhile, the names of the killed suspects were not disclosed. Telegram channels supporting law enforcers disseminated the video with allegiance, which, according to authors of the Telegram channels, had been earlier sworn by the men killed in the Stavropol Territory. The farm yard of Balki, near which an armed clash occurred, is a very quiet place where mostly pensioners live, report local residents. They note that they heard loud bangs at night when the special operation was carried out. Besides, on March 14, the "Kommersant" reported with reference to its source from the NAC that law enforcers had conducted searches in the Stavropol village of Ust-Nevinsky and reported an arrest of an accomplice of the two killed militants. However, officials from the local authorities and villagers could not confirm the above information. It should be noted that according to the calculations run by the "Caucasian Knot", the special operation conducted in the Shpakovsky District became the first armed incident in the Stavropol Territory since early 2019.

Death of Georgian citizen after his detention on border with Abkhazia

On March 13, the State Security Service (SSS) of Abkhazia reported that Georgian citizen Irakli Kvaratskheliya died on March 10 after being detained while attempting to cross the border. According to the Abkhazian side, the man committed suicide. Eyewitnesses reported Irakli Kvaratskheliya had been beaten after his detention. The Tbilisi authorities sharply reacted to the information, called the detention of Irakli Kvaratskheliya illegal, and demanded to investigate the incident. In the evening on March 13, the Abkhazian side handed over the body of the deceased man to the Georgian side on a bridge over the Inguri River in the presence of delegates of the Geneva consultations. The bureau for forensic medical examination of the Ministry for Public Health of Abkhazia confirmed the non-violent nature of the Irakli Kvaratskheliya's death. However, relatives of Irakli Kvaratskheliya and members of the Georgian opposition questioned the above version. Meanwhile, Georgian medical experts stated they had found traces of a rope on the body of the deceased man, but explained that laboratory tests should be conducted.

Court's decision on claim filed by Vremenny villagers and meeting of Salafi mosque's activists with Prosecutor in Dagestan

On March 12, the Untsukul District Court of Dagestan recognized that officials did not act after a special operation in the Vremenny residential settlement. Victims, refused in compensation by the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) because of their places of residence, were recognized as residents of the Vremenny village. Let us remind you that on September 18, 2014, the residents of the Vremenny residential settlement complained about the blocking of their village by law enforcers and about inspections of houses and yards and later about the shortage of food and the destruction of the household buildings by the law enforcers. On October 8, 2014, almost all residents left the blocked village. In December 2014, the special commission declared 52 houses in the village unsuitable for living. Residents of the Vremenny village have been seeking compensation for their houses destroyed during the special operation. In July 2018, the court refused to recognize the inaction of the authorities, but on February 26, 2019, the Supreme Court (SC) cancelled the above decision and the case was sent for a new consideration. According to a lawyer representing the plaintiffs' interests, the judicial victory opened to the residents of the Vremenny village the opportunity to receive compensation after four years of the authorities' inaction.

On March 12, at a meeting with Dagestani Prosecutor Denis Popov, delegates of the public council and the imam of the Tangim mosque, located in Omarov Street in Makhachkala, complained about regular raids conducted by law enforcers near the mosque. They also complained that believers of the mosque were declared extremists. The Dagestani Prosecutor has promised his assistance, but if the pressure on the believers is not stopped, the leaders and the public council of the mosque will seek a meeting with Vladimir Vasiliev, state participants of the meeting. It should be noted that on Friday, March 15, the believers of the Tangim mosque noted the absence of law enforcers' mobile checkpoints near the mosque, and there were no detentions on that day. Law enforcers did not conduct a weekly Friday raid near the Tangim mosque in Makhachkala for fear of inspections by the Prosecutor's Office, believes Magomed Magomedov, a member of the mosque's public council.

Hunger strike of Gukovo miners

On March 12, three former employees of the Rostov enterprise "Kingcoal" and Valery Dyakonov, a delegate of the miners on protest, began a hunger strike at the Valery Dyakonov's apartment in the town of Zverevo. The hunger-strikers demand complete payment of debts to the miners. On March 14, Valentina Zarbalieva, one of the hunger-strikers, complained about the deterioration of her health state. On March 16, participants of the hunger strike in Zverevo attended a picket held by the miners in the town of Gukovo, and two women participating in the picket decided to join the hunger strike. They would be on hunger strike at their houses in Gukovo, Valery Dyakonov reported. According to him, for six days, the Zverevo authorities have failed to respond to the hunger strike. Meantime, farmers in the Krasnodar Territory began to collect humanitarian aid for the miners on protest in Gukovo.

This article was originally published on the Russian page of 24/7 Internet agency ‘Caucasian Knot’ on March 18, 2019 at 09:10 am MSK. To access the full text of the article, click here.

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