19 August 2019, 13:49

Week in the Caucasus: review of main events of August 12-18, 2019

Karabakh soldier's passage to Azerbaijan; searches of Moscow and Ingush offices of "Legal Initiative"; decision of Russia's SC on return to Grozny of case of Dagestanis killed in Chechnya; central Sochi flooded after downpour; sale of Georgian "Rustavi-2" TV Company, – read about these events in the Caucasus that occurred during the week of August 12-18, 2019, in the review prepared by the "Caucasian Knot".

Passage of NKR soldier to Azerbaijani side

On August 12, the press service of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) reported that Araik Gazaryan, a military serviceman soldier of the NKR's Defence Army, had defected to the side of Azerbaijan. The deserting soldier said that he fled because of lawlessness in his military unit, the Azerbaijani MoD reported, claiming that the soldier "had been subjected to physical and moral pressure from his commanders, as evidenced by haematomas found on his head and wounds on his body." In its turn, the Armenian MoD treated this information as propaganda and suggested that Gazaryan had deserted to the Azerbaijani side because he simply lost his way. The staff of the Azerbaijani Ombudsperson visited Gazaryan and stated that he had no complaints about his custody and treatment conditions. The circumstances of how Gazaryan found himself on the Azerbaijani side are not clear; and it is unacceptable to link haematomas and abrasions on the soldier's body with hazing in the army, the NKR's MoD has stated; while the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) of this republic declared Gazaryan to be a prisoner of war, and said that the MFA would seek his return to his homeland. There were no soldiers' complaints about discipline in the military unit, where Araik Gazaryan had served; however, officers of the Defence Army are indirectly responsible for the fact that the soldier occurred on the side of Azerbaijan, the rights defenders interviewed by the "Caucasian Knot" have noted.

Searches of Moscow and Ingush offices of "Legal Initiative"

On August 14, law enforcers searched the Moscow office of the "Legal Initiative", the human rights project, which represents interests of relatives of missing people, victims of extrajudicial executions, torture and unfair trial, including in the republics of Northern Caucasus. According to rights defenders, law enforcers made photos of the office staff's passports and asked about the project's work in Northern Caucasus, and, in the absence of any warrant to seize and inspect the phones they forced them away from the office staff. On August 16, law enforcers searched the office of the "Legal Initiative" in the city of Nazran, Ingushetia. The search warrant indicated that policemen were studying possible links of protests in Moscow and in Northern Caucasus. However, rights defenders suggested that the search had to do with their defence of the arrested Ingush activists.

Russia's SC rules to return case of Dagestanis killed in Chechnya to Grozny

On August 12, the Russia's Supreme Court (SC) refused to transfer the consideration of the case of eight Dagestanis, who, according to Chechen law enforcers, were killed in a shootout in October 2016, from Grozny to another Russian region. Let us remind you that the eight Dagestanis in question, according to Chechen law enforcers, had prepared a terror act and were killed in a shootout. The Chechnya's SC began considering their case. According to Andrei Sabinin, an advocate of the "Agora" International Human Rights Group, casualties' relatives insisted on hearing the case in Dagestan. On August 13, mothers of those posthumously accused stated that a court in Chechnya would not be able to objectively consider the case. According to Mr Sabinin, the return of the case to Grozny created difficulties for relatives, since they will have to go to the trial from Kaspiysk to Chechnya. Mothers also fear that the witnesses will be afraid to come to a Chechen court.

Flood in central Sochi after rainstorm

In the morning on August 17, a short-term downpour in Sochi flooded the main streets, including Kurortny Avenue. According to eyewitnesses, in some places, water reached people's waists; streams of water flooded parked cars and pedestrian underpasses. Traffic jams quickly formed in the streets; it was difficult for pedestrians to move. Frequent flooding occurs due to poorly built gulley system and low-quality maintenance thereof, local residents assert.

Georgian "Rustavi-2" TV Company put up for sale

On August 12, Kibar Khalvashi, the owner of "Rustavi-2", announced his intention to sell the company, explaining his decision by the debts of 70 million laris (almost USD 24 million), and the absence of his financial capability to maintain the channel. Mr Khalvashi intends to hold a contest and sell the TV Company to the one who offers the highest price. His decision has to do not only with the financial aspect, but also with an attempt to change the editorial policy of the TV channel, Georgian political analysts and oppositionists assert. On August 15, the Georgia's Ministry of Finance announced the amount of the accumulated tax debts of the "Rustavi-2" – USD 9.6 million, and demanded from the TV Company to submit, within two weeks, proposals on debt restructuring. It is noteworthy that Nika Gvaramiya, a former director general of "Rustavi-2", dismissed from this post on July 18, immediately after the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) had decided to transfer the assets of the TV Company to Kibar Khalvashi, was accused of embezzling the company's money. The court appointed a freedom restriction measure to Gvaramiya in the form of a bail, but he refused to deposit it and is trying to appeal against this decision. He denies his any involvement in financial frauds and believes that the interest of the Prosecutor's Office in him is of political nature.

This article was originally published on the Russian page of 24/7 Internet agency ‘Caucasian Knot’ on August 19, 2019 at 09:15 am MSK. To access the full text of the article, click here.

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