23 March 2020, 14:34

Week in the Caucasus: review of main events of March 16-22, 2020

Effect of coronavirus on the lives of people in the Caucasus; presidential election in Abkhazia; early release of journalist Afghan Mukhtarly in Azerbaijan; compensation to Georgian citizens for deportation from Russia; public apologies of Chechen residents for the behaviour of their relatives in Moscow, – see the review of these and other events in the Caucasus during the week of March 16-22, 2020, prepared by the "Caucasian Knot".

Effect of coronavirus on lives of people in Caucasus

During the past week, the spread of the coronavirus infection in the countries of Southern Caucasus and in Southern Russia was not stopped. By the evening of March 22, the number of people infected with coronavirus reached 54 patients (including 21 new cases over the week) in Georgia, 65 patients (40 new cases over the week) in Azerbaijan, and 194 patients (168 new cases over the week) in Armenia. The number of the coronavirus cases increased in the southern regions of Russia. While in the morning on March 16, it was reported about one person treated in Krasnodar, then, as at the evening on March 22, the number of people infected with coronavirus increased to eight, including five patients in the Krasnodar Territory, two in Kabardino-Balkaria, and one in the Stavropol Territory.

On March 16, Armenia introduced a state of emergency in connection with the spread of the coronavirus infection. Events involving more than 20 people are prohibited. Citizens of 16 countries are refused in entering the country. Educational institutions declared vacations. On March 20, the parliament approved amendments to the Administrative and Criminal Codes to provide for heavy fines for violating the quarantine regime or the requirement for self-isolation, and up to five years of imprisonment in case of mass infection of people. Since March 22, the country has closed shopping centres, bars, nightclubs, cinemas, and gaming and bookmakers' houses.

In the evening on March 21, in Georgia, the parliament approved a presidential decree on introducing a state of emergency for a month in connection with the spread of the coronavirus infection. The country's authorities recommend local residents not to go outside unless it is absolutely necessary. Besides, gatherings of more than ten people in one place are forbidden. The Georgian Security Council has closed all retail outlets, except for grocery stores, pharmacies, petrol stations, banks, and post offices. On March 19, amid the spread of the coronavirus infection, the national currency of Georgia reached a new anti-record. Residents of Tbilisi complain of damage from measures against the coronavirus infection. According to them, employers sent employees on indefinite unpaid leave, and the lari depreciation led to an increase in food prices.

In Azerbaijan, the government has also introduced a number of new restrictions in an attempt to hinder the spread of the coronavirus infection. Educational institutions extended the quarantine until April 20. The country is closed to tourists, and a ban has been introduced on the entry into the capital region of citizens and vehicles from other regions and cities of Azerbaijan. For the first time in the post-Soviet history of the country, mass events and festivities on the occasion of the Novruz Bayram holiday, which began on March 20, were cancelled. On March 19, President Ilham Aliev allocated 1 billion manats (600 million US dollars) to mitigate the negative effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the country's economy. Economists consider the measures insufficient and ineffective and propose to free the businesses from the tax burden and mitigate loan conditions.

On March 19, the high alert mode because of the spread of the coronavirus infection was introduced in all regions of Southern Russia. Major events are cancelled almost everywhere, and schoolchildren got extended holidays. University students are transferred to distance learning. After the measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus infection had been announced, a stir occurred in many regions of Southern Russia, and local residents began to massively buy food products with a long shelf life. In the middle of the week, the increased demand led to the growth of prices. On March 16, the Spiritual Administration of Muslims (SAM) of Russia released recommendations on reducing the Friday prayers and imposing restrictions on visiting mosques for people at risk. The recommendations were followed by the Muftiates of Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, Adygea, and Karachay-Cherkessia. However, in Chechnya, the Muftiate limited themselves to calls for hygiene.

Presidential election in Abkhazia

On March 22, Abkhazia opened 154 polling stations for voting in the presidential election, including one polling station in Moscow and one in Cherkessk. Let us remind you that three candidates were running for president, including opposition leader Aslan Bzhaniya, Deputy Prime Minister Adgur Ardzinba, and Leonid Dzapshba, former Minister of Internal Affairs. The Central Election Commission (CEC) announced the elections to be valid. By 11:00 p.m., the majority of the votes had been counted. Aslan Bzhaniya is winning the presidential election.

Early release of journalist Afghan Mukhtarly in Azerbaijan

On March 17, Azerbaijani opposition journalist Afghan Mukhtarly was released and left for Germany, where his relatives lived. Let us remind you that in May 2017, Afghan Mukhtarly, who had earlier migrated to Georgia, was kidnapped and forcibly taken to Baku. In January 2018, the court sentenced him to six years of imprisonment on the charges of illegal border crossing, smuggling, and rendering resistance to a public officer. Local human rights defenders recognized Afghan Mukhtarly as a political prisoner. According to the journalist, in the morning on March 17, the Surakhani District Court hastily considered his appeal on commutation of punishment. The court replaced the unserved part of the punishment with a fine in the amount of 1000 manats (600 US dollars). The journalist was released in the courtroom. The journalist arrived in Berlin with transit through Moscow. When already in Berlin, Afghan Mukhtarly met his relatives and then announced that he would continue his activities as a journalist.

Compensation to Georgian citizens for deportation from Russia

Seven Georgian citizens deported from Russia in 2006 received compensation awarded to them by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). This was reported on March 18 by the Georgian NGO "Georgian Young Lawyers' Association" (GYLA), which represented the interests of eight Georgian citizens deported from Russia. The NGO has also emphasized that the issue of paying compensation to one more Georgian resident was being discussed. The GYLA has also noted that at the meeting held on March 3-5, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe harshly criticized Russia for failure to pay compensations in due time.

Public apologies of Chechen residents for behaviour of their relatives in Moscow

On March 16, the "Grozny" ChGTRK (Chechen State TV and Radio Company) reported that Chechen law enforcers had found in Moscow and forced 47 natives of the republic to return to their homeland. According to the journalists, the number of the Chechen natives returned to homeland included "drug addicts, hooligans, and thieves," against whom their relatives complained. On the air of the "Grozny" TV Channel, relatives of the returned Chechen natives apologized for their behaviour and thanked the law enforcement bodies for the measures taken. On March 18, on the air of the "Grozny" TV Channel, relatives publicly apologized for failure of treatment for Ilyas Mazhaev, an elderly Chechen native, also returned from Moscow, where he was in distress. Ilyas Mazhaev was found and returned home "on behalf of the leader of Chechnya," authors of the TV story noted. They also noted that the "bad habits" were the cause of the plight of the man who spent about 30 years in prisons. These cases continued the practice of forced apologies, which, with the introduction of Ramzan Kadyrov, is also practiced outside Chechnya.

This article was originally published on the Russian page of 24/7 Internet agency ‘Caucasian Knot’ on March 23, 2020 at 09:15 am MSK. To access the full text of the article, click here.

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